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Law School Case Brief

Anders v. California - 386 U.S. 738, 87 S. Ct. 1396 (1967)


A defense counsel's 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, or proceed to a decision on the merits, if state law so requires. 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. 


Counsel was appointed by a California appellate court on defendant Anders’ motion to prosecute the appeal of his felony conviction. After studying the record and consulting with Anders, appellate counsel determined that there was no merit to the appeal and so advised the court. He also advised it that Anders wished to file a brief in his behalf. Anders’ request for another attorney was denied. Anders then filed a brief pro se and a reply brief to the State's response. The appellate court, after examining the record, affirmed the conviction. Six years later, Anders, seeking to reopen his case on the ground that he had been deprived of the right to counsel on his appeal, filed in the appellate court an application for habeas corpus, which the court denied the same day. The court stated that it had again reviewed the record and determined the appeal to be "without merit" (but failed to say whether it was frivolous or not) and that the procedure here followed the California system for handling indigents' appeals approved by that State's Supreme Court as meeting the requirements of Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353. Claiming, inter alia, that the judge and prosecutor had erroneously commented on his failure to testify, Anders filed with the State Supreme Court an application for habeas corpus, which that court denied without giving any reason for its decision. Anders sought certiorari review.


Was Anders deprived of his right to counsel on his appeal?




The U.S. Supreme Court found that the State's action did not comport with fair procedure and lacked the equality required by U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Court found that counsel's bare conclusion that there was no merit to Anders’ appeal was not enough because counsel did not act in any greater capacity than merely as amicus curiae, and the state supreme court gave no reason for its decision. The Court found that counsel had a duty to support his client's appeal to the best of his ability, and if he found the case to be wholly frivolous after conscientious examination, he should advise that and request permission to withdraw, and submit a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably support his appeal.

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