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United States v. Messerlian

June 16, 1986

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE
v.
MESSERLIAN, HARRY H., APPELLANT



On Motion For Bail Pending Appeal Submitted Under Third Circuit Rule 12(6) Tuesday, June 3, 1986.

Author: Garth

BEFORE: HUNTER, GARTH and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges

GARTH, Circuit Judge:

The defendant, Harry H. Messerlian, was convicted after trial and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. The district court denied bail pending appeal. We are asked to review that order.

Messerlian, a New Jersey State Trooper, was convicted by a jury of willfully depriving Joseph Topolosky of his constitutional right to liberty without due process of law by beating him to death in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 (Count I); of conspiracy to obstruct justice in an effort to cover up the circumstances surrounding Topolosky's death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count II); and of falsely testifying before a federal grand jury that he, Messerlian, had not in fact struck Topolosky around the head and neck with his flashlight, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1623 (Count III).

Following his conviction and the filing of post-trial motions, Messerlian moved before the district court for bail pending appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b). Applying the four-part standard established by United States v. Miller, 753 F.2d 19 (3d Cir. 1985), the district court expressly found that Messerlian posed no risk of flight or immediate danger to the community, and that Messerlian's appeal was not taken for purposes of delay. District Court op. at App. 441a. Nevertheless, the district court denied Messerlian bail on the ground that Messerlian's proposed appeal presented no substantial legal issues which, if determined favorably to Messerlian, would be likely to result in reversal of his conviction or an order for a new trial. District Court op. at App. 444a.

On May 13, 1986, Messerlian was sentenced by the district court to concurrent terms of ten years imprisonment on Count I, three years imprisonment on Count II, and three years imprisonment on Count III.*fn1 The district court's original commitment order provided that Messerlian should voluntarily surrender on or before May 29, 1986 to the designated penal institution. However, further, the district court provided that if the location of the penal institution to which Messerlian would be incarcerated were established sooner, Messerlian would be obligated to surrender on May 22, 1986. Upon determining where he would be assigned to serve his term of imprisonment, Messerlian was informed by letter that he was to report for confinement by noon on May 22, 1986.

Messerlian moved before the district court for a stay of the district court's order denying him bail pending appeal. The district court denied Messerlian's motion and ordered that Messerlian surrender to federal authorities by noon on May 22, 1986. While Messerlian was en route to prison, Messerlian's newly retained appellate counsel moved before Judge Leonard I. Garth, as a single judge of this court, for a stay of the district court's order denying bail pending appeal. In an order issued May 22, 1986, the district court's order denying bail pending appeal was stayed until further action by a three-judge panel of this court.

Exercising our responsibility to "independently determine" whether Messerlian is entitled to bail pending appeal, United States v. Smith, 793 F.2d 85, 87 (3d Cir. 1986); United States v. Strong, 775 F.2d 504, 505 (3d Cir. 1985); United States v. Delker, 757 F.2d 1390, 1399-1400 (3d Cir. 1985), we conclude that the district court erred in finding that Messerlian's appeal of his conviction fails to raise a substantial issue. Accordingly, we vacate the district court's order denying Messerlian bail, and remand to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

In order for a convicted defendant to obtain bail pending appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b)*fn2, the defendant has the burden of establishing

(1) that the defendant is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released;

(2) that the appeal is not for purpose of delay;

(3) that the appeal raises a substantial question of ...


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