Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967)

2011-10-20 04:12:09

In Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963), the Supreme Court held that an indigent defendant was entitled to have counsel appointed to handle the appeal of his conviction. Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), then addressed an inevitable result of Douglas: a situation in which assigned counsel found no meritorious issues to present on appeal.

In Anders, the defendant was convicted of marijuana possession and requested appointed counsel on appeal. The assigned attorney reviewed the record and consulted with his client before determining the appeal lacked merit; the lawyer advised the court by letter to this effect and asked to withdraw. The defendant’s request for another attorney was denied.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that assigned counsel should be allowed to withdraw from ‘‘wholly frivolous’’ cases, but deemed the procedure utilized by the lawyer in this case inadequate. Rather, the Court recommended that, first, after reviewing the record and finding the case frivolous, assigned counsel should notify the court and ask to withdraw, including with that request a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably support the appeal. Second, the court should examine the case to decide whether it is wholly frivolous. If the court concurs with the attorney’s assessment, it should grant the request to withdraw and dismiss the appeal subject to certain limitations; however, if the court finds any of the legal points arguable on the merits, then it must afford the defendant with the assistance of counsel to argue the appeal.

Whereas Anders set in motion the procedure for grappling with a ‘‘no-merit’’ appeal—and states responded by creating procedures along the lines of the Court’s suggestions—the case failed to offer guidance as to what constitutes a frivolous issue, leaving that question for a later day.


References and Further Reading

  • Bentele, Ursula, and Eve Cary. Appellate Advocacy: Principles and Practice, 4th ed. 2004, 304–332
  • Duggan, James E., and Andrew W. Moeller. ‘‘Make Way for the ABA: Smith v. Robbins Clears a Path for Anders Alternatives.’’ Journal of Applied Practice and Process 3 (2001):65
  • Warner, Martha C., Anders in the Fifty States: Some Appellants’ Equal Protection Is More Equal Than Others, 23 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 625 (1996)

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963) 
  • Ellis v. United States, 356 U.S. 674 (1958) 
  • Eskridge v. Washington State Board, 357 U.S. 214 (1958) 
  • Lane v. Brown, 372 U.S. 477 (1963) 

See also Due Process; Equal Protection Clause and Religious Freedom; Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; Right to Counsel