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PITCHESS V. DAVIS, 421 U. S. 482 (1975)

U.S. Supreme Court

Pitchess v. Davis, 421 U.S. 482 (1975)

Pitchess v. Davis

No. 74-1128

Decided May 19, 1975

421 U.S. 482


On respondent's direct appeal from a rape conviction, the California appellate courts rejected his contention that the prosecution's failure to turn over to him an exculpatory laboratory report stating that scientific tests failed to reveal the presence of sperm on vaginal smear slides taken from the victim or on her clothing, violated his right to a fair trial. Subsequently, the Federal District Court upheld such contention in a habeas corpus petition and issued a conditional writ compelling respondent's release unless the State provided him with the report and retried him, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. But in advance of the scheduled retrial, it was discovered that the slides and the victim's clothing had been routinely destroyed after respondent's conviction had become final, and respondent moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that the destruction of this evidence deprived him of the opportunity for a fair trial. After the trial court had denied this motion, the California Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court denied respondent's applications for writs of prohibition. In the meantime, the District Court granted respondent's motion to replace the conditional writ of habeas corpus with an absolute writ because of the destruction of evidence, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Respondent failed to exhaust available state remedies on the claim that formed the basis for the unconditional writ, and hence he is entitled to no relief based upon a claim with respect to which state remedies have not been exhausted.

(a) Since the state appellate courts' denials of respondent's applications for writs of prohibition cannot be fairly taken to adjudicate the merits of his claim, and full post-trial appellate review is available if respondent is convicted again on retrial, the denial of the applications did not exhaust respondent's available state remedies.

(b) Neither Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 60(b), which permits a district court to grant relief from a final order, nor 28 U.S.C. § 2254, which requires exhaustion of available state remedies as

Page 421 U. S. 483

a precondition to consideration of a federal habeas corpus petition, nor the two read together, permit a federal habeas court to maintain a continuing supervision over a retrial conducted pursuant to a conditional writ granted by the habeas court.

Certiorari granted; reversed and remanded.

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