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Tuesday
Aug122014

What is an arguable issue on appeal?  

 In People v. Hernandez (2014) ___, Cal.App.4th ___, Justice Rylaarsdam wrote the opinion in a criminal appeal in which the Court previously appointed counsel to represent the defendant.  The attorney filed a Anders/Wende brief, in which the attorney indicated he could find no issues to argue on defendant’s behalf.  TheAnders/Wende brief is based on Anders v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 738 and People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436.

The Court published its opinion, reaffirming its long-standing rejection ofAnders/Wende briefs.  It stated: 

                 “Long ago, this court discredited the custom of raising ‘‘arguable-but-unmeritorious’ issue[s]’ in Anders/Wende appeals; yet this practice persists.  As Justice Gardner noted in People v. Johnson, supra, 123 Cal.App.3d 106, ‘In this case we reject a concept which has crept into our judicial literature – the ‘arguable-but-unmeritorious’ issue on appeal.  We hold that an arguable issue on appeal consists of two elements.  First, the issue must be one which, in counsel’s professional opinion, is meritorious.  That is not to say that the contention must necessarily achieve success.  Rather, it must have a reasonable potential for success.  Second, if successful, the issue must be such that, if resolved favorably to the appellant, the result will either be a reversal or a modification of the judgment.’”  

 (Opn., pgs. 3-4.) 

 Justice Gardner advocated jettisoning the concept of ‘arguable-but-unmeritorious’ issues, a position with which this Court agreed.  While the Court must review the record in such appeals, and must do so when the defendant personally files a brief raising certain issues, “But there is no such obligation with respect to counsel supplied so-called ‘arguable-but-unmeritorious’ issues.”  (Opn., pg. 4.)  As a result, “An attorney who cannot discover an arguable issue thus secures an appellate review of the record which is not necessarily enjoyed by his more feisty counterpart who raises one or two frivolous issues, easily disposed of by the inspection of a few pages of transcripts.”  (Opn., p. 4; citing People v. McGee I1978) 82 Cal.App.3d 127, 129.) 

 One of the tasks of an appellate attorney is to select the issues on appeal.  Selecting three or four grounds for appeal is best.  At times, an appellate attorney may drop weaker grounds, fearful that their inclusion will bring down the credibility of the appellant’s position.  If a brief includes a laundry list of errors, numbering over five, the Court of Appeal may wonder whether so many errors could be committed in one hearing.  If an civil appellate attorney cannot find any issues for appeal, the attorney simply notifies the client and may even refuse to take the appeal.  Court-appointed criminal appellate attorneys face a different challenge.  What do they do if they cannot find an arguable issue on appeal?  As pointed out by Justice Rylaarsdam, filing a brief in which the attorney discusses the case and indicates he or she cannot find any issues to argue on the defendant’s behalf, is not acceptable.