481 U. S. 551
May 18, 1987
After losing on direct review, Dorothy Finley sought to overturn a murder conviction through collateral review. She had a public defender, but he quit immediately. The question was whether she was entitled to more vigorous advocacy from her public defender for this challenge. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that she was, citing a US Supreme Court case called Anders. The state prosecutors argued that Anders did not apply to collateral review, but only direct review.
The Court ruled 6-3 that a public defender did not need to be appointed for collateral review cases. Rehnquist wrote for the majority, and explained that such review was a privilege and not a right, and that therefore no Constitutional entitlement to counsel existed. He also rejected the claim that the Anders standard needed to be applied if the state chose to give a defendant a public defender in collateral proceedings. Blackmun concurred in judgment, hoping that the Pennsylvania law on public defenders would be examined in detail on remand.
Brennan, joined by Marshall, dissented. He argued that the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had in fact been based on state law, and that in any event the case was not ripe for review because it was not yet even clear whether the Anders standard would have been followed by the trial court on remand. He also argued that a failure of Pennsylvania courts to apply Anders when they provided a public defender would constitute a due process violation. Finally, because collateral review would likely be futile without counsel, Brennan found an equal protection clause violation. Like Brennan, Stevens contended in his own dissent that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling had been purely a matter of state law, and thus was not appropriate for the US Supreme Court to review.
Much as I hate to side with them, I think the three dissenters are probably right that there was no federal issue on which the state prosecutors could appeal. Jurisdiction restrictions are no fun, but they need to be observed, and this was a case where they were not.