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U.S. Supreme Court

McCoy v. Court of appeals of Wisconsin, 486 U.S. 429 (1988)

McCoy v. Court of appeals of Wisconsin

No. 87-5002

Argued January 20, 1988

Decided June 6, 1988

486 U.S. 429


Under Anders v. California, 386 U. S. 738, if court-appointed appellate counsel wishes to withdraw on the ground that his client's appeal is wholly frivolous, he must include with his withdrawal motion "a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably support the appeal." A Wisconsin Supreme Court rule essentially restates this requirement, but also requires that the brief include "a discussion of why the issue lacks merit." Believing that his client's state court appeal from felony convictions was frivolous, but being unwilling to include in his withdrawal brief the discussion required by the rule, appellant's court-appointed counsel, after an unsuccessful challenge in the state intermediate appellate court, filed an original action in the State Supreme Court challenging the discussion requirement on the grounds that it is inconsistent with Anders and forces counsel to violate his client's Sixth Amendment rights. The court upheld the requirement.

Held: The discussion requirement -- as construed by the State Supreme Court to require a brief statement of why particular cases, statutes, or facts in the record lead the attorney to believe that the appeal lacks merit -- is constitutional under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. The discussion requirement merely goes one step further than the minimum requirements stated in Anders, and satisfies the same objectives that those requirements serve: assuring the appellate court that the attorney has protected his indigent client's constitutional rights by diligently and thoroughly searching the record for any arguable claim that might support the appeal, and allowing the court to determine whether counsel's frivolousness conclusion is correct. Because counsel may discover previously unrecognized aspects of the law in the process of preparing his or her discussion, the discussion requirement provides an additional safeguard against mistaken frivolousness conclusions. It may forestall some motions to withdraw, and will assist the court in passing on the soundness of counsel's conclusion that the appeal is frivolous. It is settled that an attorney can advise a court that an appeal is frivolous without impairing his or her client's constitutional rights. Explaining the basis for the frivolousness conclusion does not burden the rights to effective representation or to due process on appeal any more than does stating the bald conclusion. The rule does not diminish any right a defendant chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 486 U. S. 430

may have under state law to an appeal on the merits, since, once the court is satisfied both that counsel has been diligent and that the appeal is frivolous, federal concerns are satisfied and the case may be disposed of in accordance with state law. Furthermore, the discussion requirement does not diminish the attorney's obligations as an advocate, since his duty to his client is fulfilled once he has conducted a zealous review of the record. Pp. 486 U. S. 440-444.

137 Wis.2d 90, 403 N.W.2d 449, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 486 U. S. 445. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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