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Law School Case Brief

Ross v. Moffitt - 417 U.S. 600, 94 S. Ct. 2437 (1974)


The Fourteenth Amendment does not require absolute equality or precisely equal advantages, nor does it require the State to equalize economic conditions. It does require that the state appellate system be free of unreasoned distinctions, and that indigents have an adequate opportunity to present their claims fairly within the adversary system. The State cannot adopt procedures which leave an indigent defendant entirely cut off from any appeal at all by virtue of his indigency, or extend to such indigent defendants merely a meaningless ritual while others in better economic circumstances have a meaningful appeal. The question is not one of absolutes, but one of degrees.


An indigent defendant, represented at trial by court-appointed counsel, was convicted of forgery charges in two separate criminal prosecutions in North Carolina state courts. Pursuant to North Carolina statutes, the defendant took separate appeals as of right to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, where he was again represented by court-appointed counsel, and where his convictions were affirmed. Thereafter, in one of the cases, the defendant sought to invoke the discretionary review procedures of the North Carolina Supreme Court, but was refused assistance of counsel on such appeal, and the defendant then ultimately sought, but was denied, federal habeas corpus relief in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (341 F Supp 853). In the other prosecution against him, the defendant, represented by the public defender, sought discretionary review in the North Carolina Supreme Court, which denied certiorari, and after the state courts had denied the defendant's request for court-appointed counsel to prepare a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, he again sought federal habeas corpus relief, which was denied by the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The defendants' appeals from the District Courts' denial of habeas corpus relief were consolidated in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which reversed, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment required appointment of counsel to assist the defendant in both cases. The State of North Carolina sought review.


Did the United States Court of Appeals err in holding that the Fourteenth Amendment required the State to appoint counsel to assist indigent criminal defendants for discretionary state appeals and for applications for review in the Supreme Court of the United States?




On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed. The Supreme Court held that neither the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required that a state, after furnishing counsel for an indigent's first appeal as of right from a conviction, had to appoint counsel for the indigent's subsequent discretionary state appeals and for his applications for Supreme Court review.


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