Pennsylvania v. Finley
481 U.S. 551 (1987)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987)

Pennsylvania v. Finley

No. 85-2099

Argued March 2, 1987

Decided May 18, 1987

481 U.S. 551

Syllabus

Respondent was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in a Pennsylvania trial court, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal. In respondent's subsequent postconviction proceedings, the trial court, as required by state law, appointed counsel to assist her. Counsel reviewed the trial record; consulted with respondent; concluded that there were no arguable bases for collateral review; advised the trial court in writing of his conclusion; and requested permission to withdraw. After reviewing the record, the court agreed that there were no arguably meritorious issues and dismissed the proceedings. Respondent acquired new appointed counsel and appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which concluded that counsel's conduct in the trial court violated respondent's constitutional rights, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Superior Court relied on Anders v. California,386 U. S. 738, which held that (1) when an attorney appointed to represent an indigent defendant on direct appeal finds the case to be wholly frivolous, he must request the court's permission to withdraw and submit a brief referring to anything in the record arguably supporting the appeal, (2) a copy of the brief must be furnished the indigent, and time must be allowed for him to raise any points that he chooses, and (3) the court itself must then decide whether the case is wholly frivolous.

Held: The court below improperly relied on the Federal Constitution to extend the Anders procedures to these collateral postconviction proceedings. Denial of counsel to indigents on first appeal as of right amounts to discrimination against the poor in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Anders established a prophylactic framework that is relevant when, and only when, a litigant has a previously established Constitutional right to counsel. The right to appointed counsel extends to only the first appeal of right, and, since a defendant has no federal constitutional right to counsel when pursuing a discretionary appeal on direct review of his conviction, Ross v. Moffitt,417 U. S. 600, a fortiorari, he has no such right when attacking, in postconviction proceedings, a conviction that has become final upon exhaustion of the appellate process. The Anders procedures do not apply to a state-created right to counsel on postconviction review just because they are applied to the right to counsel on first appeal as of right. Respondent's access to a lawyer was the

Page 481 U. S. 552

result of the State's decision, not the command of the Federal Constitution. The procedures followed by her trial counsel in the postconviction proceedings fully comported with the fundamental fairness mandated by the Due Process Clause. States have no obligation to provide postconviction relief, and when they do, the fundamental fairness mandated by the Due Process Clause does not require that the State supply a lawyer as well. Nor was the equal protection guarantee of meaningful access violated in this case. Moreover, there is no merit to respondent's contention that, once the State has granted a prisoner access to counsel on postconviction review, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that counsel's actions comport with the Anders procedures. Evitts v. Lucey,469 U. S. 387, distinguished. Pennsylvania made a valid choice to give prisoners the assistance of counsel in postconviction proceedings without requiring the full panoply of procedural protections that the Constitution requires be given to defendants who are in a fundamentally different position -- at trial and on first appeal as of right. Pp. 481 U. S. 554-559.

330 Pa.Super. 313, 479 A.2d 568, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 481 U. S. 559. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 559. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 481 U. S. 570.

Page 481 U. S. 553

Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.