FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
February 15, 1982
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A court-appointed attorney who, at the insistence of his client and in accordance with approved
procedure, commences an appeal he believes to be frivolous may not thereafter be said to have
acted unethically in commencing the appeal. The ultimate decision regarding whether the
indigent defendant’s appeal is frivolous appears to be reserved to the reviewing court, to the
exclusion of personal determination by court-appointed counsel.
DR 1-102(A)(5), DR 7-101(A)
Fla.R.App.P. 9.140(b)(3); Integration Rule 11.02
Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493 (1967);
Baggett v. Wainwright, 229 So.2d 239 (Fla. 1969); Frizzell v. State, 238 So.2d 67
(Fla. 1970); State v. Wooden, 246 So.2d 755 (Fla. 1971); Reed v. State, 378 So.2d
899 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980); Lawrence v. State, 385 So.2d 167 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980);
Correal v. State, 387 So.2d 524 (Fla. 4th DCA 1980), Robinson v. State, 373
So.2d 898 (Fla. 1979)
Chairman Ervin stated the opinion of the committee:
A Florida lawyer who represents indigent defendants by court appointment inquires of his
ethical duties regarding the commencement of appeal at the insistence of defendant where the
lawyer is of the professional opinion that the appeal is groundless and frivolous. For the purpose
of this inquiry it is assumed that the inquiring lawyer’s appointment extends to and includes
representation of defendant regarding his appellate rights, whatever those may be.
The lawyer’s inquiry requires the Committee to refer more extensively to case authority
than is ordinary but, in final analysis, poses an ethical inquiry regarding which this Committee
may express its advisory opinion. The lawyer’s dilemma may be succinctly stated. If the lawyer
has a professional duty to commence appellate proceedings and fails to do so, his failure could
be construed as violative of DR 7-101(A) and DR 1-102(A)(5), as well as the oath of an attorney
and Integration Rule 11.02, which require an attorney to support the Constitution of the United
States and the Constitution of the State of Florida.
If the lawyer, on the other hand, has no such professional duty and is of the view that
such an appeal is groundless or frivolous, his commencement of the appeal could be construed as
violative of DR 7-102(A)(1) as well as DR 1-102(A)(5).
The duties of appointed counsel to indigent defendants have been addressed by the
Supreme Court of Florida in published decisions, as well as in the Florida Code of Professional
Responsibility. The pronouncement of such duties in specific decisions serves to define the
attorney’s responsibility just as does the promulgation of the Code.
No consideration of counsel’s duty to an indigent defendant is complete without
reference to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d. 493 (1967). Therein
the court held in effectuation of the constitutional right to assistance of counsel that it was not
adequate for appointed counsel to advise the court that the client’s cause appeared to be without
merit. The court stated that:
Counsel should and can with honor and without conflict, be of more assistance to
his client and to the court. His role as advocate requires that he support his
client’s appeal to the best of his ability. Of course, if counsel finds his case to be
wholly frivolous, after a conscientious examination of it, he should so advise the
court and request permission to withdraw. That request must, however, be
accompanied by a brief referring to anything in the record that might arguably
support the appeal. A copy of counsel’s brief should be furnished the indigent and
time allowed him to raise any points that he chooses; the court — not counsel —
then proceeds, after a full examination of all the proceedings, to decide whether
the case is wholly frivolous. If it so finds it may grant counsel’s request to
withdraw and dismiss the appeal insofar as federal requirements are concerned, or
proceed to a decision on the merits, if state law so requires. On the other hand, if
it finds any of the legal points arguable on their merits (and therefore not
frivolous) it must, prior to decision, afford the indigent the assistance of counsel
to argue the appeal. (Emphasis supplied.)
Subsequently, in Baggett v. Wainwright, 229 So.2d 239 (Fla. 1969), The Florida Supreme
Court held at page 242 in pertinent part:
A chain of decisions subsequent to Douglas v. California, supra, culminating in
Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493 (1967), makes
it quite clear that the requirement of Douglas is not necessarily met simply by the
appointment of counsel to represent an indigent defendant on appeal. The Anders
case raised to constitutional proportion certain minimum requirements imposed on
a court-appointed counsel who considers his client’s appeal to be frivolous. . . .
From the foregoing, compliance with the Anders, supra, procedure appeared to have been
made a part of appointed counsel’s duties even though counsel personally viewed the appeal as
baseless or frivolous. In Frizzell v. State, 238 So.2d 67 (Fla. 1970), however, the duties of
court-appointed counsel seemed clouded by the court’s observation at page 70 that:
The public defender’s office is not required to appeal a case which has no
merit. . . .
Shortly thereafter, however, in State v. Wooden, 246 So.2d 755 (Fla. 1971), the Florida
Supreme Court again addressed the issue and quoted from the earlier Anders v. California
decision, supra, as setting forth minimum requirements imposed upon court-appointed counsel.
The court expressly held at page 758 that:
In light of Anders v. California, supra, and Baggett v. Wainwright, supra,
therefore, we hereby recede from the language in Frizzell v. State, supra,
suggesting that court-appointed counsel need not appeal a case which he
determines is without merit.
From the foregoing it appears that court-appointed counsel may be ethically required to
commence an appeal on behalf of an indigent defendant at the insistence of the client even if
counsel is of the view that the appeal is wholly without merit or frivolous. The above-quoted
commands simply cannot be construed to instruct or authorize court-appointed counsel to refuse
to commence an appeal and let the appeal time run where the appeal appears to be frivolous, but
the client insists upon an appeal. See also Rule 9.140(b)(3), Florida Rules of Appellate
Procedure, and Reed v. State, 378 So.2d 899 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980). Certainly, in light of the
foregoing commands, court-appointed counsel does not appear to commit any ethical violation or
transgression by the commencement of such an appeal, compliance with Rule 9.140(b)(3)(A),
and filing of a motion for leave to withdraw accompanied by an Anders brief.
The Committee is aware of Lawrence v. State, 385 So.2d 167 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980),
referring to such an appeal after a guilty plea as having been commenced for reasons “unknown”
to the court and characterizing same as “taken against good faith.” More recently, in Correal v.
State, 387 So.2d 524 (Fla. 4th DCA 1980), under similar circumstances the court described such
appeals as “frivolous” and concluded by stating:
Such conduct in the future will be met with appropriate sanctions.
Even after a guilty plea, however, appeal may legitimately be directed to a class of issues.
Robinson v. State, 373 So.2d 898 (Fla. 1979). In any event, under the commands of the Florida
Supreme Court in State v. Wooden, supra, the ultimate decision whether the indigent defendant’s
appeal is frivolous appears to be reserved to the reviewing court, to the exclusion of personal
determination by court-appointed counsel.
The propriety of threatened or actual imposition of sanctions by any court is, of course, a
matter far beyond this Committee’s authorized area of inquiry. No opinion regarding that subject
is hereby expressed. As to the ethical propriety of such conduct, however, it is the opinion of the
Committee that a court-appointed attorney who, at the insistence of his client and in accordance
with the procedure set forth by the United States Supreme Court and approved by the Supreme
Court of Florida in State v. Wooden, 246 So.2d 755 (Fla. 1971), commences such an appeal may
not thereafter be said to have acted unethically in commencing the appeal.