Coppedge v. United States
369 U.S. 438 (1962)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438 (1962)

Coppedge v. United States

No. 157

Argued December 12, 1961

Decided April 30, 1962

369 U.S. 438

Syllabus

Tried and convicted in a Federal District Court, petitioner applied to that Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 for leave to appeal in forma pauperis. The District Court denied the application and certified that the appeal was not in good faith. Petitioner then filed a similar application in the Court of Appeals, which appointed counsel for petitioner. Such counsel filed a memorandum in support of the application, contending, inter alia, that the indictment had been procured by perjured testimony and that petitioner had been unable to prove this charge because of the refusal of the District Court to permit him to examine the transcript of the grand jury proceedings. The Court of Appeals ordered that a transcript of the trial proceedings be furnished to petitioner, and that the application to appeal in forma pauperis otherwise be held in abeyance. After the transcript had been prepared, the Government filed a detailed memorandum opposing the application, and petitioner filed another memorandum based upon the transcript, urging the same questions and others which he claimed showed that his appeal was not frivolous. After considering the petition and the memoranda in support and in opposition, but without hearing arguments, the Court of Appeals denied the petition without opinion.

Held: the summary disposition of petitioner's application was not justified. Pp. 369 U. S. 440-454.

(a) A person convicted in a Federal District Court of a federal offense is entitled to appeal as a matter of right, and he need not petition the Court of Appeals for the exercise of its discretion to allow him to bring the case before it. Pp. 369 U. S. 441-442.

(b) If a defendant is unable to pay the fee for docketing his appeal in the Court of Appeals or to pay the cost of preparing a transcript of the record of the proceedings in the trial court, he cannot perfect his appeal except by applying under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 for leave to appeal in forma pauperis. Pp. 369 U. S. 442-444.

(c) The sole statutory language to guide the District Court in passing upon such an application is that "An appeal may not be taken in forma pauperis if the trial court certifies in writing that it is not taken in good faith." P. 369 U. S. 444.

Page 369 U. S. 439

(d) The requirement that an appeal in forma pauperis be taken "in good faith" is satisfied when the defendant seeks appellate review of any issue that is not frivolous. Pp. 369 U. S. 444-445.

(e) When a defendant applies to a Court of Appeals for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the District Court's certification that the application is not "in good faith" is entitled to weight, but it is not conclusive. Pp. 369 U. S. 445-446.

(f) If it appears from the face of the papers filed in the Court of Appeals that the applicant will present issues for review which are not clearly frivolous, the Court of Appeals should grant leave to proceed in forma pauperis, appoint counsel to represent the appellant, and proceed to consideration of the appeal on the merits in the same manner that it considers paid appeals. P. 369 U. S. 446.

(g) If the claims made or the issues sought to be raised by the applicant are such that their substance cannot adequately be ascertained from the face of the application, the Court of Appeals must provide the would-be appellant with the assistance of counsel and with a transcript of the record sufficient to enable him to attempt to make a showing that the District Court's certificate of lack of good faith is erroneous. P. 369 U. S. 446.

(h) If, with such aid, the applicant then presents any issue for the court's consideration which is not clearly frivolous, leave to proceed in forma pauperis must be granted. P. 369 U. S. 446.

(i) An indigent defendant is entitled in all respects to the same right of appeal as a defendant who is able to pay the expenses of his appeal. Pp. 369 U. S. 446-447.

(j) On an application for leave to appeal in forma pauperis, the burden is not on the applicant to show that his appeal has merit in the sense that he is bound, or even likely, to prevail ultimately; the burden is on the Government to show that the appeal is so lacking in merit that the court would dismiss the case as frivolous on the Government's motion had the case been docketed and had a record been filed by an appellant able to pay the expenses of complying with these requirements. Pp. 369 U. S. 447-448.

(k) If it is the practice of a Court of Appeals to defer rulings on motions to dismiss paid appeals until the court has had the benefit of hearing argument and considering briefs and an adequate record, it must accord the same procedural rights to a person applying for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. P. 369 U. S. 448.

(l) In passing upon applications for leave to appeal in forma pauperis, the Courts of Appeals should have due regard for the

Page 369 U. S. 440

facts that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 39(d) requires that, in setting appeals for argument, preference shall be given by the Courts of Appeals to appeals in criminal cases, and that the purpose of this requirement is to meet the need for speedy disposition of such cases. Pp. 369 U. S. 448-450.

(m) Although there have been many proceedings and much delay in disposing of this case, the petitioner has not yet received the plenary review of his conviction to which he is entitled, since he has not yet received the benefits of presenting either oral argument or full briefs on the merits to the Court of Appeals. Pp. 369 U. S. 450-453.

(n) On the record in this case, taken as a whole, it cannot be said that petitioner's claims are so frivolous as to justify the summary disposition of his case which was ordered below. Pp. 369 U. S. 450-454.

Judgment vacated and case remanded for further proceedings.

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