280 A.2d 110 (Pa. 1971), 626, Com. ex rel. Bryant v. Hendrick

Docket NºEdward J. HENDRICK, Superintendent, Appellant in 626.
Citation280 A.2d 110, 444 Pa. 83
Opinion JudgeAuthor: Eagen
Party NameCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania ex rel. Cephus BRYANT v. Edward J. HENDRICK, Superintendent, Appellant in 625. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania ex rel. James GOLDSTEIN v.
Case DateAugust 02, 1971
CourtSupreme Court of Pennsylvania

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280 A.2d 110 (Pa. 1971)

444 Pa. 83

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania ex rel. Cephus BRYANT


Edward J. HENDRICK, Superintendent, Appellant in 625.

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania ex rel. James GOLDSTEIN


Edward J. HENDRICK, Superintendent, Appellant in 626.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

August 2, 1971.

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[444 Pa. 85] Arlen Specter, Dist. Atty., James D. Crawford, Deputy Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellant.

[444 Pa. 86] Vincent J. Ziccardi, Defender, John W. Packel, Chief, Appeals Div., Defender Assn. of Philadelphia, for appellees.

[444 Pa. 85] Before BELL, C.J., and JONES, COHEN, EAGEN, O'BRIEN, ROBERTS and POMEROY, JJ.

[444 Pa. 86] OPINION

EAGEN, Justice.

These appeals are by one Hendrick, Superintendent of the Philadelphia county prisons, from an order entered below granting habeas corpus relief to petitioners, Cephus Bryant (Bryant) and James Goldstein (Goldstein).

Both petitioners alleged that they were confined in Holmesburg Prison under conditions constituting cruel and unusual treatment, prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. At the time, Bryant was confined in Holmesburg in lieu of $3500 bail while awaiting trial on an indictment charging him with burglary, larceny and receiving stolen goods. In addition, he was subject to a military detainer filed by the United States Marine Corps, charging him with being absent without leave from that organization. Goldstein was confined in lieu of $7500 bail following his arrest for illegal possession of dangerous drugs.

Supporting their allegations that confinement in Holmesburg constituted cruel and unusual punishment, Bryant and Goldstein asserted that they were in grave danger of serious physical harm; that the conditions of the cells and other areas of the prison were substanard; and that their confinement resulted from the fact that they were too impoverished to post bail.

After an extended hearing, a three-judge court below made exhaustive findings of fact and based on these findings concluded

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that 'the prison (Holmesburg) was a cruel, degrading and disgusting place, likely to bring out the worst in a man' and that after the riot which occurred therein on July 4, 1970, the prison 'became a place ruled by cold blooded terror.' [444 Pa. 87] The court ordered that Bryant and Goldstein be transferred within 48 hours to 'some other prison' or failing that, to be discharged from custody. It tailored its order by additionally directing that no further petitions would be entertained for thirty (30) days to give the authorities an opportunity to begin to remedy conditions which led to the issuance of these writs.

Subsequently, Bryant was turned over to the custody of the military authorities. Goldstein was released from custody after posting bail in the reduced amount of $500, the reduction being ordered by the court. In the event he ever returned to the Philadelphia prison system, Goldstein was listed on the records of Holmesburg as having been transfered to the House of Correction.

While no one involved has raised the issue, in view of the fact that neither Bryant nor Goldstein are now confined in Holmesburg, the question of mootness looms on the horizon. However, we have ruled that an order entered in a habeas corpus proceeding discharging a prisoner from custody is reviewable on appeal. Doyle v. Commonwealth ex rel. Davis, 107 Pa. 20 (1884). Moreover, the public interest is so involved in the instant case that resolution of the merits is called for.

Appellant first contends that, even if the conditions at Holmesburg were as deplorable as the lower court found, relief through habeas corpus was improper. Admittedly, there is support for this position, but the lower court rejected it, and we conclude that under the circumstances its ruling was wise and correct.

Traditionally in Pennsylvania and in many other jurisdictions, the writ of habeas corpus has functioned only to test the legality of the petitioner's commitment and detention. It was long held that the manner of his treatment and discipline during confinement was not reviewable in habeas corpus proceedigns. For example, [444 Pa. 88] see Commonwealth ex rel. Milewski v. Ashe, 362 Pa. 48, 66 A.2d 281 (1949), and Commonwealth ex rel. Wright v. Banmiller, 195 Pa.Super. 124, 168 A.2d 925 (1961). On the other hand, some states adopted a more liberal view and permitted the use of habeas corpus to secure relief from conditions constituting cruel and unusual punishment, even though the detention was legal. For example, see In Re Riddle, 57 Cal.2d 848, 22 Cal.Rptr. 472, 372 P.2d 304, cert. denied 371 U.S. 914, 83 S.Ct. 261, 9 L.Ed.2d 173 (1962); Mahaffey v. State, 87 Idaho 228, 392 P.2d 279 (1964); State ex rel. Cole v. Tahash, 269 Minn. 1, 129 N.W.2d 903 (1964); and Cf. Hughes v. Turner, 14 Utah 2d 128, 378 P.2d 888 (1963). See also, People ex rel. Brown v. Johnston, 9 N.Y.2d 482, 215 N.Y.S.2d 44, 174 N.E.2d 725 (1961), and People ex rel. Rockey v. Krueger, 62 Misc.2d 135, 306 N.Y.S.2d 359 (1969).

The United States Supreme Court has also indicated in several instances that the use of the writ should not be restricted to a determination of the legality of the detention, and ruled that the writ may be utilized to secure relief from any restraint which violates freedoms considered basic and fundamental. Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. 54, 88 S.Ct. 1549, 20 L.Ed.2d 426 (1968), and Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 83 S.Ct. 822, 9 L.Ed.2d 837 (1963).

In Fay v. Noia, supra, Mr. Justice Brennan, speaking for the Court, outlined in scholarly fashion the development and history of 'the great writ' and said (at 402, 83 S.Ct. at 829) that 'in a civilized society government must always be accountable to the judiciary for a man's imprisonment' and (at 405, 83 S.Ct. at 831) that 'there was respectable common law authority for the proposition that habeas was available to remedy any kind of governmental restraint contrary to fundemental law.'

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And in Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, at pages 290, 291, 89 S.Ct. 1082, at page 1086, 22 L.Ed.2d 281 (1969), Mr. Justice Fortas, speaking for the Court, aptly said:

[444 Pa. 89] 'The writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action. Its pre-eminent role is recognized by the admonition in the Constitution that: 'The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended * * *.' U.S.Const., Art. I, § 9, cl. 2. The scope and flexibility of the writ--its capacity to reach all manner of illegal detention--its ability to cut through barriers of form and procedural mazes--have always been emphasized and jealously guarded by courts and lawmakers. The very nature of the writ demands that it be administered with the initiative and flexibility essential to insure that miscarriages of justice within its reach are surfaced and corrected.

As Blackstone phrased it, habeas corpus is 'the great and efficacious writ, in all...

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