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MURCH ET AL. v. MOTTRAM
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
Decided November 6, 1972
In a 1965 proceeding respondent substituted for his original attack on the constitutional validity of his underlying convictions a petition challenging only the constitutionality of procedures attending revocation of his parole, notwithstanding advice that, under the judge's construction of Maine's statute governing post-conviction relief, a prisoner is deemed to waive constitutional grounds not asserted and that both the petition and the previous attack came within the statute. Respondent's 1965 challenge was not successful, and in 1967 he filed another petition for state post-conviction relief, collaterally attacking the validity of the previous convictions. Following an adverse ruling by the State's highest court, respondent sought relief in the District Court, which ruled against him on the ground that in the 1965 proceeding he had bypassed the state statutory procedures. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent had not waived his right to raise the constitutional issues. Held: Maine could properly provide that a prisoner seeking post-conviction relief must assert all known constitutional claims in a single proceeding, and a state prisoner may not "elect" not to comply with a state court's interpretation of the statute and claim, as respondent (who had received fair warning) did here, that he did not have the subjective intent to waive his constitutional claims.
Certiorari granted; 458 F.2d 626, reversed.
Respondent Mottram sought habeas corpus from the United States District Court in Maine, challenging on various constitutional grounds the validity of a criminal conviction obtained in the Maine state courts. After a full evidentiary hearing, the District Court denied relief, both on the ground that respondent had deliberately bypassed state procedures established for the post-conviction adjudication of such claims, and on the ground that the [409 U.S. 41, 42] constitutional claims were without merit. 330 F. Supp. 51 (1971). The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed, holding that respondent had not waived his right to raise the constitutional issues, and ruling in favor of respondent on one such issue. 458 F.2d 626 (1972). We have concluded that, under settled principles governing the availability of federal habeas for state prisoners, the finding of the District Court as to waiver must be sustained. We therefore grant the motion of the respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, grant the petition for a writ of certiorari, and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Mottram was convicted in 1960 of larceny and of being a habitual offender, and these convictions were upheld on appeal. State v. Mottram, 158 Me. 325, 184 A. 2d 225 (1962). On that appeal, Mottram did not litigate the constitutional issue upon which the Court of Appeals based its decision. Respondent was paroled in 1963, but parole was revoked in 1965. Following that revocation, Mottram brought in state court the action that later became the main focus of concern of the Court of Appeals and the District Court. The original petition in that proceeding challenged directly the validity of the underlying convictions. Prior to the presentation of evidence to the state court judge, however, Mottram's counsel sought to withdraw the original petition without prejudice and to substitute a "Supplemental Petition," which challenged on constitutional grounds only the propriety of the procedures attending the revocation of respondent's parole. At this point the state judge advised respondent's counsel that he considered both the petition and the proceeding to be for post-conviction relief, and that therefore, under the applicable state statutes, Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., Tit. 14, 5502, 5507 (1964), Mottram would either have to raise all grounds for relief from custody or be deemed to waive those that had not [409 U.S. 41, 43] been asserted. Mottram's counsel disagreed with the state judge, contending that the petition was one for common-law habeas corpus, and that therefore the statutory requirement that all grounds for attack be presented did not apply. The judge reiterated his interpretation, and the following colloquy then took place:
In Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 439 (1963), this Court said:
The Court of Appeals conceded that "[t]here are a great many instances where a party must be bound by a mistake of his counsel." 458 F.2d, at 629. But it concluded that because the statutory question presented to the state trial judge, whether the Maine post-conviction statute required respondent to assert in the 1965 proceeding all of his attacks upon his detention, was not open and shut, counsel's failure to assert the constitutional claim in the state proceeding could not be regarded as a "deliberate by-pass" under Fay v. Noia, supra, at 438-439. That court also relied on the fact that there was no "extrinsic evidence" that Mottram "was seeking to circumvent state procedures . . . ." 458 F.2d, at 629.
Concededly, Mottram testified at the hearing in the District Court that he did not intend to waive his constitutional attacks on the underlying 1960 convictions. But if a subjective determination not to waive or to abandon a claim were sufficient to preclude a finding of a deliberate bypass of orderly state procedures, constitutionally valid procedural requirements, such as those contained in the Maine statute requiring the joining of all bases for attack in one proceeding, would be utterly meaningless. Nothing in our previous holdings in this area supports the conclusion that Mottram, having fair warning of the effect of the Maine statute, could cavalierly disregard that intended effect by simply announcing that he did not choose to be bound by it. In this sensitive and ofttimes strained area of federal-state relations, a state prisoner may not deliberately "elect" not to comply with the interpretation of the state procedural statute by the state court, and then assert in federal court that no rights were waived because he did not have the subjective intent to waive his constitutional claims. The Court of Appeals apparently felt that so [409 U.S. 41, 47] long as the highest state court has not construed the relevant procedural statute, a prisoner is free to adhere to his own interpretation and to establish thereby that he did not deliberately ignore state procedure. But here, respondent had reasonable warning from the trial judge of the risk that he ran in declining to assert his claim in the first proceeding, and nonetheless chose to run that risk. Such conduct fully supported the District Court's conclusion that he had deliberately chosen to bypass orderly state procedures, and the Court of Appeals erred in upsetting that determination.
I dissent and would affirm because in my view the Court of Appeals reached the correct result on the facts presented. [409 U.S. 41, 48]