Pennsylvania v. Finley

PETITIONER: Pennsylvania
LOCATION: U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense

DOCKET NO.: 85-2099
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 481 US 551 (1987)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1987
DECIDED: May 18, 1987

Catherine M. Harper - on behalf of Respondent
Gaele M. Barthold - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Pennsylvania v. Finley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1987 in Pennsylvania v. Finley

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in No. 85-2099, Pennsylvania against Finley.

Mrs. Barthold, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Gaele M. Barthold:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Twenty years ago this Court imposed strict and unique briefing requirements on appointed attorneys seeking to withdraw because they concluded that a client's first appeal was frivolous.

In addition, reviewing courts, charged with hearing such appeals, were charged with the responsibility of conducting an independent review of the record to determine whether the appeal was in fact frivolous.

This issue presented by this case is whether those procedures, those prophylactic rules as articulated by this Court in Anders v. California, should be held applicable on collateral review.

It is our position that they should not be held applicable, and that in the collateral review context, a no merit letter, with notice to the client and an opportunity to proceed pro se, is a constitutionally acceptable alternative.

Now before detailing our reasons in support of that conclusion, I would like rather briefly to address the respondent's claim that this Court is without jurisdiction to decide that issue because the opinion below rests on an adequate and independent state basis.

The opinion is, of course, a Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion; although that is an intermediate appellate court, it is the highest court in which the decision could be had in this case.

The respondent is a state prisoner having been convicted in 1975 of second degree felony murder and related offenses.

She was represented by appointed counsel during his trial, and during her unsuccessful direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

She next sought collateral review under the State Post Conviction Hearing Act statute, and counsel was not appointed for her because the claims that she raised were finally litigated under Pennsylvania law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, held that under its supervisory rules, its rules of criminal procedure, that any defendant is entitled to counsel on a first PCHA petition, or on a subsequent petition raising new issues.

When counsel was appointed for Mrs. Finley, he reviewed the record and concluded that he had no arguable issues to raise.

He, as a result, after consulting with his client, filed a no merit letter with the Post Conviction Hearing Act court, and detailed in that letter the additional claims which Mrs. Finley wanted raised on her behalf.

Based on that letter and his own independent review of the record, the Post Conviction Hearing Act judge dismissed the petition and allowed counsel to withdraw.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Have you any knowledge as to exactly what his review of the record consisted of?

Was he looking at the notes of testimony or what?

Gaele M. Barthold:

We know from his letter that he looked at the notes of testimony.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Is that enough?

Gaele M. Barthold:

Judge Blake indicated in his opinion that he looked at the entire record.

We also know that he consulted with his client.

So I think we are reasonably certain that he did the kind of conscientious review that he should have done, and which this Court, of course, in Strickland, has said that counsel is presumed to do their job and to be competent.

Now when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed because Anders' prophylactic requirements on direct appeal had not been complied with, they said, among other things, since Anders has been applied in similar circumstances, we hold, quote unquote, Anders is applicable here.

And in addition, they noted that the Pennsylvania law with respect to the withdrawal of counsel is derived from... and those were their exact words... Anders v. California.

I think those two statements by the Superior Court make it very clear that there is not an independent state basis for this opinion.

That conclusion is underscored by the fact that there is no clear statement in the opinion saying we used the Federal authority only for purposes of guidance.

And of course in this Court's opinion, Michigan v. Long, you made clear to state courts that if they wanted to make such a statement, they could.

So I think there's no question but that this Court has jurisdiction to consider the very significant issue which is presented here.

Now, I think the starting point for that consideration is twofold.