469 U.S. 387 (1985), 83-1378, Evitts v. Lucey

Docket Nº:No. 83-1378
Citation:469 U.S. 387, 105 S.Ct. 830, 83 L.Ed.2d 821, 53 U.S.L.W. 4101
Party Name:Evitts v. Lucey
Case Date:January 21, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 387

469 U.S. 387 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 830, 83 L.Ed.2d 821, 53 U.S.L.W. 4101

Evitts

v.

Lucey

No. 83-1378

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 21, 1985

Argued October 10, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

After respondent was convicted of a drug offense in a Kentucky state court, his retained counsel filed a timely notice of appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. But because counsel failed to file the statement of appeal required by a Kentucky Rule of Appellate Procedure when he filed his brief and record on appeal, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal and later denied a motion for reconsideration. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed, and the trial court denied a motion to vacate the conviction or grant a belated appeal. The respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, challenging the dismissal of his appeal on the ground that it deprived him of the right to effective assistance of counsel on appeal guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court granted a conditional writ of habeas corpus, ordering respondent's release unless the Commonwealth either reinstated his appeal or retried him. The United States Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the effective assistance of counsel on his first appeal as of right. Pp. 391-405.

(a) Nominal representation on an appeal as of right -- like nominal representation at trial -- does not suffice to render the proceedings constitutionally adequate; a party whose counsel is unable to provide effective representation is in no better position than one who has no counsel at all. A first appeal as of right therefore is not adjudicated in accord with due process of law if the appellant does not have the effective assistance of an attorney. The promise of Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, that a criminal defendant has a right to counsel on his first appeal as of right -- like the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, that a criminal defendant has a right to counsel at trial -- would be a futile gesture unless it comprehended the right to effective assistance of counsel. Pp. 391-400.

(b) When a State opts to act in a field where its action has significant discretionary elements, such as where it establishes a system of appeals as of right although not required to do so, it must nonetheless act in

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accord with the dictates of the Constitution, and, in particular, in accord with the Due Process Clause. Pp. 400-401.

(c) Under any reasonable interpretation of the line drawn in Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600, between discretionary appeals in which a criminal defendant has no right to counsel and appeals as of right in which he does, a criminal defendant's appeal of a connection to the Kentucky Court of Appeals is an appeal as of right. The Kentucky Constitution requires that at least one appeal as of right be allowed in all cases, civil and criminal. And a criminal defendant appealing to the Kentucky Court of Appeals has not previously had an adequate opportunity to present his claims fairly in the context of the State's appellate process. It follows that for purposes of analysis under the Due Process Clause, respondent's appeal was an appeal as of right, thus triggering the right to counsel recognized in Douglas v. California, supra. Pp. 401-402.

(d) Petitioners' argument that the Due Process Clause has no bearing on the Commonwealth's actions in this case because the constitutional requirements recognized in Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (the transcript of the trial is a prerequisite to a [105 S.Ct. 832] decision on the merits of an appeal), Douglas v. California, supra, and the cases that followed had their source in the Equal Protection Clause, not the Due Process Clause, rests on a misunderstanding of the diverse sources of this Court's holdings in this area of the law. Both due process and equal protection concerns were implicated in Griffin and Douglas and both Clauses supported those decisions. Pp. 402-405.

724 F.2d 560, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 405. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 406.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963), held that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to counsel on his first appeal as of right. In this case,

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we must decide whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the criminal defendant the effective assistance of counsel on such an appeal.

I

On March 21, 1976, a Kentucky jury found respondent guilty of trafficking in controlled substances. His retained counsel filed a timely notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, the state intermediate appellate court. Kentucky Rule of Appellate Procedure 1.095(a)(1) required appellants to serve on the appellate court the record on appeal and a "statement of appeal" that was to contain the names of appellants and appellees, counsel, and the trial judge, the date of judgment, the date of notice of appeal, and additional information.1 See England v. Spalding, 460 S.W.2d 4, 6 (Ky.1970) (Rule "is designed to assist this court in processing records and compliance is not jurisdictional"). Respondent's counsel failed to file a statement of appeal when he filed his brief and the record on appeal on September 12, 1977.2

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When the Commonwealth filed its brief, it included a motion to dismiss the appeal for failure to file a statement of appeal. The Court of Appeals granted this motion because "appellant has failed to supply the information required by RAP 1.095(a)(1)." App. 37a. Respondent moved for reconsideration, arguing that all of the information necessary for a statement of appeal was in fact included in his brief, albeit in a somewhat different format. At the same time, respondent tendered a statement of appeal that formally complied with the Commonwealth Rules. The Court of Appeals summarily denied the motion for [105 S.Ct. 833] reconsideration. Respondent sought discretionary review in the Supreme Court of Kentucky, but the judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed in a one-sentence order. In a final effort to gain state appellate review of his conviction, respondent moved the trial court to vacate the judgment or to grant a belated appeal. The trial court denied the motion.

Respondent then sought federal habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. He challenged the constitutionality of the Commonwealth's dismissal of his appeal because of his lawyer's failure to file the statement of appeal, on the ground that the dismissal deprived him of his right to effective assistance of counsel on appeal guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court granted respondent a conditional writ of habeas corpus ordering his release unless the Commonwealth either reinstated his appeal or retried him.3

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The Commonwealth appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which reached no decision on the merits but instead remanded the case to the District Court for determination whether respondent had a claim under the Equal Protection Clause. Lucey v. Seabold, 645 F.2d 547 (1981).

On remand, counsel for both parties stipulated that there was no equal protection issue in the case, the only issue being whether the state court's action in dismissing respondent's appeal violated the Due Process Clause. The District Court thereupon reissued the conditional writ of habeas corpus. On January 12, 1984, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court. Lucey v. Kavanaugh, 724 F.2d 560. We granted the petition for certiorari. 466 U.S. 949 (1984). We affirm.4

II

Respondent has for the past seven years unsuccessfully pursued every avenue open to him in an effort to obtain a decision on the merits of his appeal and to prove that his conviction was unlawful. The Kentucky appellate courts' refusal to hear him on the merits of his claim does not stem from any view of those merits, and respondent does not argue in this Court that those courts were constitutionally required to render judgment on the appeal in his favor. Rather the issue we must decide is whether the state court's dismissal of the appeal, despite the ineffective

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assistance of respondent's counsel on appeal, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Before analyzing the merits of respondent's contention, it is appropriate to emphasize two limits on the scope of the question presented. First, there is no challenge to the District Court's finding that respondent indeed received ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal. Respondent alleges -- and petitioners do not deny in this Court -- that his counsel's failure to obey a simple court rule that could have such drastic consequences required this finding. We therefore need not decide the content of appropriate standards for judging claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Cf. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984). Second, the stipulation in the District Court on remand limits our inquiry solely to the validity of the state court's action under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.5

Respondent's claim arises at the intersection of two lines of cases. In one line, we have held that the...

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