Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 98-1037. Argued October 5, 1999—Decided January 19, 2000

An attorney appointed to represent an indigent defendant on appeal may conclude that an appeal would be frivolous and request that the appellate court allow him to withdraw or that the court dispose of the case without the filing of merits briefs. In Anders v. California, 386 U. S. 738, this Court found that, in order to protect a defendant's constitutional right to appellate counsel, courts must safeguard against the risk of granting such requests where an appeal is not actually frivolous; found California's procedure for evaluating such requests inadequate; and set forth an acceptable procedure. California adopted a new procedure in People v. Wende, 25 Cal. 3d 436, 600 P. 2d 1071. Unlike under the Anders procedure, counsel under Wende neither explicitly states that his review has led him to conclude that an appeal would be frivolous nor requests to withdraw; instead he is silent on the merits of the case and offers to brief issues at the court's direction. A California state-court jury convicted respondent Robbins of second-degree murder and grand theft. His appointed counsel on appeal concluded that appeal would be frivolous and filed with the State Court of Appeal a brief that complied with the Wende procedure. Agreeing with counsel's assessment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court denied review. After exhausting his state postconviction remedies, Robbins sought federal habeas relief, arguing, inter alia, that he had been denied effective assistance of appellate counsel because his counsel's Wende brief did not comply with the Anders requirement that the brief refer "to anything in the record that might arguably support the appeal," 386 U. S., at 744. The District Court agreed, concluding that there were at least two issues that might arguably have supported Robbins' appeal and finding that his counsel's failure to include them in his brief deviated from the Anders procedure and thus amounted to deficient performance by counsel. Rather than requiring Robbins to prove prejudice from this deficiency, the court applied a presumption of prejudice. The Ninth Circuit agreed, concluding that Anders, together with Douglas v. California, 372 U. S. 353—which held that States must provide appointed counsel to indigent criminal defendants on appeal—set forth the exclusive procedure by which appointed counsel's performance could be constitutional, and that counsel's brief failed to comply with


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