Habeas Corpus – Jurisdiction – Exhaustion of State Remedies as Prerequisite to Federal Relief

Petitioner, a prisoner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania convicted of armed robbery in 1947, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court after several efforts to secure the writ in a state court had been unsuccessful. Jurisdiction was based on exhaustion of available state remedies. The petition alleged that the Commonwealth had violated petitioner’s rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by denying him the right to be represented by counsel at his trial. The Commonwealth moved to dismiss on the ground that the petition on its face showed that state remedies had not been exhausted. Following the hearing, held, writ granted. Since poverty prevented petitioner from ·paying the fees then considered mandatory for the filing of an appeal, he had sufficiently exhausted available state remedies. Failure of petitioner to be represented by counsel at his trial resulted in a denial of his constitutional rights. On petition for rehearing by the Commonwealth, held, denied. Even if, as now claimed by the Commonwealth, the filing fees were not mandatory, the case involved “exceptional circumstances” which allowed the court to issue the writ despite non-exhaustion of state remedies. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Gavell, (W.D. Pa. 1957) 157 F. Supp. 272.