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Meyers v. Gillis

August 23, 1996

PHILIP MEYERS

v.

FRANK D. GILLIS, SUPERINTENDENT, ET AL.; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA; THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF BUCKS COUNTY,

APPELLANTS



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

(D.C. Civil No. 94-07160)

Before: ALITO, McKEE, and GARTH, Circuit Judges:

ALITO, Circuit Judge

Argued: June 24, 1996

(Opinion Filed: August 23, 1996)

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal from an order of the district court granting Philip Meyers habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2254. Without determining whether the "presumption of correctness" found in 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2254(d)(8) had been overcome, the district court concluded, contrary to the state court's finding, that there was no factual basis developed prior to the entry of Meyers' guilty plea. Concluding that the absence of an on-the-record factual basis violated Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 319, the district court granted habeas relief.

We hold, first, that Meyers did not rebut the statutory presumption of correctness. Further, following well-established and uniform authority from numerous other courts of appeals, we hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution does not require an on-the-record development of the factual basis supporting a guilty plea before entry of the plea. Rather, due process requires only that the plea be voluntary and intelligent. Thus, the failure of a state court to elicit the factual basis for the plea on the record before it is entered does not in itself provide an independent ground for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. We therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

In July 1981, petitioner/appellee Philip Meyers ("petitioner" or "Meyers") killed Hugh Daily. Within a few days, Meyers was charged with criminal homicide and robbery. The robbery charge was subsequently dismissed.

On October 21, 1981, Meyers pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before Judge Rufe in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. The transcript of this proceeding was destroyed, apparently pursuant to a Bucks County record-retention policy, and the transcript is no longer available. On November 9, 1981, Judge Rufe sentenced petitioner to life imprisonment. The transcript of the sentencing still exists and is part of the record. See App. 3-20.

On November 30, 1981, Meyers filed a motion for withdrawal of his guilty plea and for appointment of new counsel. In January 1982, the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County acknowledged receipt of petitioner's motion. The motion was not acted upon, however, for many years.

In October 1988, Meyers filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Court of Common Pleas. After petitioner's attorney made several amendments to the petition, Judge Rufe conducted evidentiary hearings in May and December of 1989. In August 1991, Judge Rufe denied the petition for post-conviction relief on two alternative grounds. First, he held that the petition was without merit. Second, he concluded that the petition was untimely and that granting Meyers relief would unfairly prejudice the Commonwealth. See 42 Pa. Con. Stat. 9543(b) ("petition shall be dismissed if it appears at any time that, because of delay in filing the petition, the Commonwealth has been prejudiced either in its ability to respond to the petition or in its ability to re-try the petitioner").

Meyers appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. In October 1993, that court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas. The Superior Court did not address the merits of the petition. Rather, it held, pursuant to Section(s) 9543(b), that the petition was untimely and that granting relief would unfairly prejudice the Commonwealth. App. 120-21. Petitioner's application for allocatur in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was denied without comment in April 1994.

In November 1994, Meyers filed an application for federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2254. The petition contained three grounds for relief: (1) "conviction was the result of an unknowing and involuntarily entered guilty plea;" (2) "denial of petitioner's right to a meaningful appellate review, his right to due process, and equal protection under the law;" and (3) "denial of petitioner's right to effective assistance of counsel." The district court initially dismissed the petition for failure to exhaust available state remedies. On petitioner's motion, the court vacated its order and directed the Commonwealth to file an answer.

In April 1995, the district judge scheduled an evidentiary hearing, and in May 1995, the court appointed counsel to represent petitioner. The hearing was held in July 1995. In September 1995, the district court granted petitioner habeas relief. Specifically, the court vacated Meyers' conviction and sentence and ordered that he be released from custody unless the Commonwealth entered into a new plea agreement with him or afforded him a trial. The court found that "the record unequivocally establishes that Meyers entered his guilty plea prior to the factual basis for the plea being established," and the court concluded that it "must, out of an abundance of caution and with great reluctance, follow the above authority [i.e., Pennsylvania caselaw applying Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 319] and allow Meyers to withdraw his plea." Dist. Ct. Op. at 16-19. Although Meyers raised ...


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