Brown v. U.S., filed on August 26, 2014
On this date in 1961 Clarence Gideon was sentenced to five years in a Florida state prison. What he did next forever changed the American legal system.
Clarence Gideon was a simple man with humble beginnings in Hannibal, Missouri. His father died when he was only three years old. He ran away from home after the eighth grade, living as a homeless drifter. As a teenager, he spent a few years in a reformatory only to be released into the Great Depression. After marrying and eventually settling in Florida, Gideon was arrested on felony theft charges on June 3, 1961.
Not able to afford an attorney, Gideon had no choice but to represent himself during his trial.
THE COURT: “Why do you not have counsel? Did you not know your case was set for trial today?”
GIDEON: “Yes, sir, I knew that it was set for trial today.”
THE COURT: “Why, then, did you not secure counsel and be prepared to go to trial?”
GIDEON: “Your Honor … I request this Court to appoint Counsel to represent me in this trial.”
THE COURT: “Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint Counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint Counsel to defend you in this case.”
Gideon was found guilty and given the maximum sentence, five years in prison. Soon after his arrival in prison, he filed a hand-written pro se petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. He argued that his Sixth Amendment right to Counsel had been violated.
The Court agreed to hear his petition in order to resolve the question of whether the right to counsel in the Sixth Amendment applies to defendants in state court. The Court agreed with Gideon that he was entitled to an attorney to assist him with his defense, and reversed and remanded his case. In writing for the majority, Justice Black stated that “reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” Gideon’s case was reheard. With the assistance of an attorney who discredited the eyewitness testimony, Gideon was acquitted.
The legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright is apparent every day in courtrooms all over the country. After the 1963 holding in Gideon, public defender offices were created to make the right to an attorney available to most people charged with crimes who could not afford an attorney to represent them. Not only do public defenders provide a basic legal defense, they also recognize the role that substance abuse and mental illness play in the commission of crimes, making appropriate referrals for their clients where necessary. It is hard to imagine our criminal justice system if Clarence Gideon and his Supreme Court appeal never came along.
Congratulations! Out of the thousands filed every term, your petition is one of the hundred or so granted by the Court. Or, as the case may be, tough luck: your opponent’s petition has been granted, and you must once again litigate your case. So now what!?
Your case is at the Supreme Court merits-stage, where the Court will take a closer look at the competing narratives, and make a conclusive determination of how the law should be applied. The Justices will make their decisions based on the written documents filed with the Court, and by a thorough examination of the parties’ attorneys in oral argument. In this first part of a three-part series, we will review the process of filing the parties’ briefs at the merits stage.
Petitioner’s Initial Filings
The petitioner will actually file two documents to open up the merits-stage briefing. Rule 26 describes the Joint Appendix, a single compilation of certain documents from the record below, as agreed to by the parties. We will discuss the JA more thoroughly in a later post.
The Petitioner’s Brief is the petitioner’s main opportunity to convince the Court to overrule the lower court, so this is where the petitioner must take his best shot. On the other hand, Rule 24.6 admonishes merits brief drafters to get to the point: “A brief shall be concise, logically arranged with proper headings, and free of irrelevant, immaterial, or scandalous matter. The Court may disregard or strike a brief that does not comply with this paragraph.” Or, as Eugene Gressman offers in his Supreme Court Practice, “[A]void overblown rhetoric.” Ch. 13.11(d), n.20 (9th ed. 2007).
The content of the Brief is very similar to that of the Petition, except that the petitioner must now include a separate Summary of the Argument section, and the word limit is 15,000. The Petitioner’s Brief can include an appendix, but the petitioner may not append any document that could properly have been included in the JA. The brief is bound in a blue cover.
Both the JA and the Petitioner’s Brief are due 45 days after the Court grants the writ, however the petitioner can ask the court for an extension of time, and the Court will often set out a specific briefing schedule by order.
Within 30 days after the petitioner files—or by some other date set by order of the Court—the respondent must file the Respondent’s Brief. The content and word limit is the same as for the Petitioner’s Brief, except that the respondent need not reproduce certain sections if he is satisfied with the petitioner’s version. The cover is red.
The petitioner can then file her Reply Brief, due within 30 days after the respondent’s filing, except that the Reply Brief must be in court no later than 2:00 p.m. Eastern time a week before oral argument. Like the petition-stage Reply, the Supreme Court merits-stage Reply Brief must simply present argument in rebuttal to points made in the Respondent’s Brief. The word limit is 6,000, and the cover is yellow.
The experts at Cockle Legal Briefs are very experienced with the merits-stage brief process. Schedule your Supreme Court merits stage brief printing with us, and be sure that your brief will be accepted by the Clerk and docketed on time.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is located in San Francisco, California, and serves Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Below are a few unique rules and attributes of the Ninth Circuit.
Cir. R. 28-2.6 states that there must be a “Statement of Related Cases” section on the last page of the initial Brief identifying any known related cases pending in the Court. The Statement must include the name and Court of Appeals docket number of the related case and describe its relationship to the case being briefed. If no other cases are deemed related, a statement should be made to that affect.
Cir. Rule 28-2.7 states that pertinent Constitutional provisions, treaties, statutes, ordinances, regulations, or rules must be set forth verbatim and with appropriate citation either directly following the Statement of Issues Presented for Review or in an Addendum introduced by a Table of Contents and bound with the Brief or separately. If the provisions are set as an Addendum to the Brief, a statement must appear following the Statement of Issues indicating the provisions will appear in the Addendum. If the provisions are placed as an Addendum and bound with the brief, the Addendum must be separated from the body of the Brief by a distinctively colored page.
Cir. R. 28-2.8 states that every assertion in the Brief regarding matters in the record shall be supported by a reference to the location in the Excerpts of Record where the matter is to be found.
The Ninth Circuit requires “Excerpts of Record” rather than an “Appendix”. The Excerpts should be a well-organized and accessible collection of all the unsealed documents in the record that are necessary to understand and decide the issues on appeal. With the required documents at their fingertips, judges and their staff can spend more time considering the issues instead of trying to find relevant documents.
The Ninth Circuit’s Appellate ECF (Electronic Case Files) system is mandatory for all attorneys filing in the Court, unless they are granted an exemption. After the Court reviews the electronically-submitted Brief and Excerpts, the Court will direct parties to file 7 paper copies of the Brief and 4 paper copies of the Excerpts with the Court. If the opposing party is an electronic filer, it is not necessary to serve the Brief in paper format on that party. If the opposing party is not an electronic filer, it is necessary to serve the Brief in paper format on that party on the day that the Brief is submitted to the Court.
The paper copy Briefs must include at the end a “Certificate for Brief in Paper Format.” This certificate should indicate that the hard copy Briefs are exactly the same as the Brief filed electronically. This certification is NOT included in the electronic copy filed with the Court.
Trust Cockle Legal Briefs to help prepare your Appellate Brief. We take pride in our efficient and detail-oriented process. As our client, you can expect all of the following: expert consultation from one of our Ninth Circuit specialists; professional proofreading and review for rule compliance; a properly formatted Legal Brief that meets the Ninth Circuit’s requirements; and your Brief will be printed, bound, and filed by its deadline. Contact us for a sample or speak to one of our Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals experts today.
Every year, the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions for writ of certiorari, but only hears about 80 of them. Unlike lower appellate courts, the Supreme Court’s review of a case is not a matter of right, but of judicial discretion. Rule 10 of the Supreme Court’s Rules states that a petition for writ of certiorari will be granted only for compelling reasons. Below are some of the factors the Supreme Court typically considers when deciding what cases to hear:
- The Court will hear cases to resolve a conflict of law. There are 13 federal circuits and 50 state supreme courts that make up the United States judicial system. Sometimes, a number of these courts reach different conclusions and fall into disharmony about an issue of federal or constitutional law. The Supreme Court then may then resolve the incongruity so that all areas of the country are uniform with respect to that law.
- The Court will hear cases that are of great public importance. Sometimes the Court will consider a highly unusual case which calls for the Supreme Court’s intervention. One example is U.S. v. Nixon which involved the Watergate scandal. Another more recent example is Bush v. Gore arising from the extremely close 2000 presidential election.
- The Court hears cases when lower courts ignore Supreme Court precedent. If a lower court blatantly disregards a past Supreme Court decision, the Court may hear the case to correct the lower court, or the Court might just overrule the case without issuing an opinion.
- The Court will hear cases where an area of law is unsettled. If a state court or a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been settled by the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court may hear the case to settle the matter.
Petitions for writ of certiorari are rarely granted for any other reasons. It is a common misconception that the Supreme Court will hear a case solely because the lower court made a procedural mistake, or misapplied the law to the facts. However, Rule 10 makes clear that certiorari is rarely granted in these instances. The unfortunate reality is with so many petitions for writ of certiorari being filed each year, there is no way the 9 justices can right every wrong committed by the lower courts. The justices, understandably, have to be selective in the cases they decide to hear. If you think your case has what it takes to be heard by the Supreme Court, give Cockle Legal Briefs a call to schedule the printing of your brief!
Amicus curiae – Latin for “friend of the court,” an amicus curiae is not a party to the case, but is a person, group, or organization who files a brief lending a unique perspective to the Court in the hopes it might influence the Court’s decision of an issue.
Brief in Opposition – The response to a petition for a writ of certiorari filed by the respondent setting out the reasons the Court should not grant certiorari. A brief in opposition is not mandatory, except in a capital case, and the right to file one is often waived.
Case law – The law as established in previous court decisions.
Conference – The private meeting held every two weeks during which the 9 justices decide which petitions for writs of certiorari to grant. Every petition that gets docketed gets distributed for conference, but only a select few are discussed. An even smaller number are actually granted.
Circuit court – One of the 13 United States Courts of Appeals comprising the intermediate appellate courts of the federal court system.
Docket – A docket is an official summary of proceedings in a court. It can also refer to a court’s calendar. In the Supreme Court, a case is “docketed” when it is placed on the Court’s docket and assigned a docket number.
En banc – French for “on the bench,” it is where all the judges of a court of appeals decide a case together as opposed to the usual panel of three judges.
Habeas corpus – Latin for “you have the body,” a petition for habeas corpus asks a federal court to review the legality of a prisoner’s detention and to justify the prisoner’s continued confinement.
Joint appendix – A joint appendix is a collection of legal documents from a case’s appellate record submitted by both parties at the merits stage of a Supreme Court case.
Judgment – The official decision of a court giving final resolution to the dispute between parties to a lawsuit.
Jurisdictional statement – A concise statement in an appellate brief which shows the court the basis of its jurisdiction to hear a case.
Merits stage – The round of briefing that occurs once the Court has granted certiorari in a case. At this stage, the focus in brief writing shifts from why a case should be heard to why a party should win.
Opinion – When a court decides a case, it typically issues a written summary of the facts and legal analysis used to arrive at a case’s decision.
Opinion below – The opinion issued by the court that heard the case immediately before appealing to the Supreme Court, usually from a federal court of appeals or a state court of last resort.
Order – A written instruction from a court directing a party or parties to take a certain required action.
Parties – The participants in a lawsuit or case.
Per curiam – Latin for “by the court,” refers to an unsigned opinion written for the court as a whole by an unidentified justice.
Petition for rehearing – A written request to a court by a losing party asking to rehear a case in light of new facts or circumstances.
Petition for writ of certiorari – A written request to the Supreme Court asking it to review the decision of a court below.
Petition for writ of mandamus – A judicial remedy granted by the Supreme Court, exceptionally rarely, where it orders a lower court to fulfill some legal obligation. Unlike a certiorari petition, there are no filing date constraints.
Petitioner – A party who lost in the lower court and asks the Supreme Court to review the decision of the lower court.
Pro se – A person who acts as one’s own attorney.
Question presented – A concise statement of the legal issue or issues the petitioner is asking the Court to resolve.
Reply – The petitioner’s response to the respondent’s brief in opposition.
Respondent – The party who won in the lower court.
Service – The mandatory process of presenting opposing parties with the documents filed in a court.
Statute – A law passed by a legislature.
Supreme court – The Supreme Court of the United States is the farthest you can appeal a case in the United States. It consists of 9 justices, appointed by a sitting president, who serve for life or until retirement. The Supreme Court hears cases on a discretionary basis, resolving federal law questions of great import and legal issues where the circuit courts or the highest state courts are in disharmony.
Table of authorities – A list of all of the cases, statutes, provisions, and other items one references in their brief.
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Articles posted in the Cockle Blog are for informational purposes only. Nothing in the Cockle Blog should be taken for legal advice. In fact, Cockle Blog articles are not a substitute for proper legal research conducted by licensed attorneys.
Cockle Blog will occasionally provide opinions on certain cases and Court procedures. These opinions should be viewed with the recognition that no one can predict with certainty how the Supreme Court will rule on particular cases. Any reliance on articles contained in Cockle Blog must be done at one's own risk.