United States v. Rachel Padgett (11th Cir. March 2019)

Appellate Procedure – A Notice of Appeal is insufficient under Rule 3(c)(1), even for a pro se litigant, when the evidence reflects an intention to file a collateral attack instead of a direct appeal.

Rachel Padgett sought to appeal her conviction based on the Government’s alleged breach of her plea agreement. The plea agreement had waived her right to a direct appeal or collateral attack of her conviction with a few exceptions, such as her right to claim ineffective assistance of counsel.

Six days after her sentencing, Padgett filed a document pro se in the district court announcing her intention to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The document was docketed as a Notice of Appeal by the clerk.

On appeal, the Court held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Padgett’s appeal since the “Notice of Appeal” she filed was insufficient under Rule 3(c)(1), which requires that a Notice of Appeal identify the parties taking appeal, the order being appealed, and the court taking the appeal.

Even though Notices of Appeal should be liberally construed, especially for pro se litigants, the Court concluded that Padgett’s filing was insufficient since it failed to name a court taking the appeal, did not identify any developed grounds for appeal, and did not reflect an intention to appeal Padgett’s conviction. The Court noted that Padgett was aware that her plea agreement waived her right to appeal though still allowed collateral attacks based on ineffective assistance claims. Padgett had also signed statement that she had chosen not to file an appeal.

The Court also held that Padgett’s pleading was not the “functional equivalent” of a Notice of Appeal. Rather, the Court found that Padgett notice meant what it said– that Padgett intended to file a collateral attack under § 2255 for ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court emphasized that Padgett’s filing was “consistent with our precedents” which allow and encourage district courts to have the first opportunity to examine ineffective assistance claims and where litigants can develop a factual record.

In dissent, Wilson argued that the jurisdictional requirements of Rule 3(c)(1) should be liberally construed, especially for pro se litigants. He found that Padgett’s pro se filing was sufficient to qualify under Rule 3(c)(1) as a functional equivalent of a Notice of Appeal since it was properly and timely filed, with the right docket number, and the district court construed it as a notice of appeal and transmitted the notice to the Court.

Appeal from the Southern District of Georgia

Opinion by Branch, joined by Wilson and Vinson

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church

Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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