Friday, December 22, 2017

Court Can Sua Sponte Dismiss Untimely Appeals, But Should Do So Sparingly

US v. Oliver: Oliver pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2011. The next year he filed a timely 2255 motion challenging his sentence. The district court ultimately denied the motion in 2015. Three months later, Oliver filed a pro se notice of appeal - from the 2011 original judgment in his case. Counsel was appointed, who filed an Anders brief. The Government didn't file a response brief and Oliver did not file a pro se brief.

There was no doubt that Oliver's notice of appeal was filed years after the 14-day deadline in the Rules of Appellate Procedure. This does not deprive the Fourth Circuit of jurisdiction, because the deadline is merely a claims processing rule, but would generally result in dismissal if the Government asked for it. Since the Government did not, the issue was whether the court could dismiss the appeal sua sponte. The court concluded that it could, given "the potential consequences of adjudicating untimely criminal appeals," including situations - like this one - where the defendant has already unsuccessfully sought collateral review. Having said that, the importance of preserving the adversary system "and its benefits weigh heavily against" invoking that authority. This case, however, was one in which that authority could be exercised, particularly because Oliver had already sought collateral review of his conviction. In doing so he relied upon the finality of his conviction and could not later go back and seek to undermine it. The court dismissed Oliver's appeal.

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