People v. Wende, Cr. 20851

Citation600 P.2d 1071,158 Cal.Rptr. 839,25 Cal.3d 436
Decision Date12 October 1979
Docket NumberCr. 20851
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 600 P.2d 1071 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Ross Arthur WENDE, Defendant and Appellant.

Appellate Defenders, Inc., under appointment by the Court of Appeal, and Paul Bell, San Diego, for defendant and appellant.

Evelle J. Younger and George Deukmejian, Attys. Gen., Jack R. Winkler and Robert H. Philibosian, Chief Asst. Attys. Gen., Daniel J. Kremer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Harley D. Mayfield and Robert M. Foster, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MANUEL, Justice.

A court found defendant guilty of two counts of robbery in which a firearm was used (Pen.Code, §§ 211, 12022.5) and sentenced him to prison for five years. Defendant appealed, and upon his request the Court of Appeal appointed counsel to represent him.

Counsel filed a brief which set forth a summary of the proceedings and facts with citations to the transcript, raised no specific issues, and called upon the court to make a thorough review of the entire record to determine for itself whether there were any arguable issues. Counsel also submitted a declaration stating that he had advised defendant of the nature of the brief, that he would send defendant a copy of the brief, and that he had informed defendant that the court would permit him to file a brief on his own behalf. Counsel also stated that he was not requesting to withdraw but that he would advise defendant that he could move to have counsel relieved if he so desired. Counsel further indicated that the principal issue at trial was one of credibility of witnesses and that he would cooperate with trial counsel in investigating and seeking writ review of possible new evidence on that issue.

The People moved to have the brief stricken because counsel had not moved to withdraw from the case. The motion was denied, and defendant was given 30 days in which to file a supplemental brief. Defendant did not avail himself of the opportunity. Counsel then waived oral argument, and the cause was submitted. The Court of Appeal filed an opinion wherein it concluded there were no reasonably arguable issues and dismissed the appeal. It did not, however, conduct a review of the entire record before doing so. Appointed counsel, who had not withdrawn from the case, filed a petition for hearing which we granted to determine whether the proceedings below satisfied the standards set forth in Anders v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493 and People v. Feggans (1967) 67 Cal.2d 444, 62 Cal.Rptr. 419, 432 P.2d 21.

In Anders v. California, the United States Supreme Court held unconstitutional the no-merit letter procedure we had set forth in In re Nash (1964) 61 Cal.2d 491, 39 Cal.Rptr. 205, 393 P.2d 405, for handling appeals by indigent defendants. 1 The court concluded that the no-merit letter procedure failed to satisfy the constitutional requirement of substantial equality and fair process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In particular, the court found the procedure defective because it did not require a finding by the court that the appeal was frivolous and because it did not require counsel to act in any greater capacity than that of amicus curiae. 2

The high court outlined the procedures which it deemed essential to satisfy federal constitutional standards: Counsel must act "in the role of an active advocate in behalf of his client, as opposed to that of Amicus curiae. . . . His role as advocate requires that he support his client's appeal to the best of his ability. Of course, if counsel finds his case to be wholly frivolous, after a conscientious examination of it, he should so advise the court and request permission to withdraw. That request must, however, be accompanied by a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably support the appeal. A copy of counsel's brief should be furnished the indigent and time allowed him to raise any points that he chooses; the court not counsel then proceeds, after a full examination of all the proceedings, to decide whether the case is wholly frivolous. If it so finds it may grant counsel's request to withdraw and dismiss the appeal insofar as federal requirements are concerned . . . On the other hand, if it finds any of the legal points arguable on their merits (and therefore not frivolous it must, prior to decision, afford the indigent the assistance of counsel to argue the appeal." (386 U.S. at p. 744, 87 S.Ct. at p. 1400.)

In People v. Feggans (1967) 67 Cal.2d 444, 62 Cal.Rptr. 419, 432 P.2d 21, we responded to the Supreme Court's mandate as follows: "Under Anders, regardless of how frivolous an appeal may appear . . ., a no-merit letter will not suffice. Counsel must prepare a brief to assist the court in understanding the facts and the legal issues in the case. The brief must set forth a statement of the facts with citations to the transcript, discuss the legal issues with citations of appropriate authority, and argue all issues that are arguable. . . . If counsel concludes that there are no arguable issues and the appeal is frivolous, he may limit his brief to a statement of the facts and applicable law and may ask to withdraw from the case, but he must not argue the case against his client. Counsel is not allowed to withdraw from the case until the court is satisfied that he has discharged his duty to the court and his client to set forth adequately the facts and issues involved. If counsel is allowed to withdraw, defendant must be given an opportunity to present a brief, and thereafter the court must decide for itself whether the appeal is frivolous. (Citations.) If any contention raised is reasonably arguable, no matter how the court feels it will probably be resolved, the court must appoint another counsel to argue the appeal." (People v. Feggans, Supra, 67 Cal.2d at pp. 447-448, 62 Cal.Rptr. at p. 421, 432 P.2d at p. 23.)

The issue in the present case is whether the Court of Appeal was required under Anders and Feggans to make a review of the entire record before determining that the appeal was frivolous. Defendant contends that such a review was required and relies in particular on the statement in Anders which requires the court, "after a full examination of all the proceedings, to decide whether the case is wholly frivolous." (386 U.S. at p. 744, 87 S.Ct. at p. 1400.) The People, on the other hand, would have us interpret this seemingly absolute language as applying only when the defendant has availed himself of the opportunity to file a brief. Such an interpretation is supported to some extent by the court's reference immediately preceding the language in question to the defendant's opportunity to "raise any points" desired and by the subsequent reference to determining whether "any of the legal points" are arguable. Other portions of the opinion, however, belie the reasonableness of such an interpretation, and it is contrary to all prior authority cited or found on the question. (See, e. g., People v. McGee (1978) 82 Cal.App.3d 127, 146 Cal.Rptr. 833; People v. Woodard (1973) 33 Cal.App.3d 930, 109 Cal.Rptr. 495; People v. Sumner (1968) 262 Cal.App.2d 409, 69 Cal.Rptr. 15; U. S. v. Minor (5th Cir. 1971) 444 F.2d 521; U. S. v. Reyna (5th Cir. 1977) 548 F.2d 1154; People v. Stasin (1969) 113 Ill.App.2d 466, 251 N.E.2d 307; State v. Pascucci (1971) 161 Conn. 382, 288 A.2d 408; see also Hermann, Frivolous Criminal Appeals (1972) 47 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 701, 719.)

The thrust of Anders was to increase the protection afforded indigent appellants. Even the Nash no-merit letter procedure, which was found inadequate, provided for a review of the record by the court. This review was deemed insufficient because it was done without the aid of a brief by counsel and because the court itself did not make an express finding that the appeal was frivolous. It is the latter defect which the court appears to have been attempting to remedy by providing that "the court not counsel then proceeds, after a full examination of all the proceedings, to decide whether the case is wholly frivolous." (Anders v. California, Supra, 386 U.S. at p. 744, 87 S.Ct. at p. 1400.) It is no longer sufficient for a court to review the record to determine the correctness of counsel's assessment of the case. (See State v. Pascucci, Supra, 288 A.2d at p. 410.) The court itself must expressly determine whether the appeal is wholly frivolous. Since the court's concern was with not merely accepting counsel's assessment of the case, it follows that the determination and concomitant review of the entire record must be made regardless of whether the defendant has availed himself of the opportunity to submit a brief.

Further support for this interpretation is found in the court's discussion of the benefits to be obtained from requiring a brief by counsel. It was viewed as a great improvement over the no-merit letter since it would "induce the court to pursue all the more vigorously its own review because of the ready reference not only to the record, but also to the legal authorities as furnished it by counsel." (Anders v. California, supra, 386 U.S. at p. 745, 87 S.Ct. at p. 1400.) The no-merit letter, by contrast, was thought to afford "neither the client nor the court any aid. The former must shift entirely for himself while the court has only the cold record which it must review without the help of an advocate." (Ibid.).

We conclude that Anders requires the court to conduct a review of the entire record whenever appointed counsel submits a brief which raises no specific issues or describes the appeal as frivolous. This obligation is triggered by the receipt of such a brief from counsel and does not depend on the subsequent receipt of a brief from the defendant personally. We recognize that under this rule counsel may ultimately be able to secure a...

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