Private Counsel Division Criminal Appeals Unit
The Private Counsel Division Criminal Appeals Unit assigns attorneys to Adult, Criminal, Post-Conviction cases and oversees panel attorneys who litigate these cases.
We assign attorneys to litigate direct appeals of adult criminal convictions or findings of a violation of probation to the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court We are alerted to the need for the assignment of a direct appeal lawyer when the trial attorney emails the Criminal Appeal Referral Form. This form can be found here or on the CPCS website homepage in the “Attorney and Vendor Resources” drop down menu. If the client had retained a private attorney for their appeal, the privately-retained attorney should contact our office to alert us to the need for the assignment of counsel.
An interlocutory appeal occurs when a trial-level criminal defense attorney or prosecutor appeals an issue while a criminal case is still pending in the trial court. The appointed trial attorney is responsible for filing a motion requesting that an appellate court hear the appeal or for opposing such a motion filed by the Commonwealth. If the Court agrees to hear the motion and refers the case to an appellate court for full briefing, then the trial attorney should notify out unit by filling out the Criminal Appeal Referral Form and we will assign an appellate attorney to the case.
We also assign attorneys to “screen” a closed case. In these cases, a client has been convicted either after a trial or a plea. We may assign an attorney to review the closed case to determine whether there are grounds to undo the conviction. Many people call our unit asking for assignment of screening attorneys. We have specific criteria that must be met prior to assigning screening attorneys and Attorney Kate O’Connell in our office reviews these requests. These requests must be in writing unless the client is unable to communicate by writing due to literacy or disability issues.
Our request for counsel forms have been translated into several languages and are listed below.
New Trial Motions:
In some cases a direct appellate attorney or a screening attorney may be authorized to file a new trial motion in the trial court. A new trial motion under Mass. R. Crim P. 30 is considered a post-conviction motion and should be assigned through our office.
For screening cases that involve immigration consequences, we assign only those attorneys on our panel who have received training in litigating these types of motions.
“Special Projects” cases
The Special Projects Unit is part of the Private Counsel Division Criminal Appeals Unit. This unit assigns cases to criminal post-conviction clients when there have been developments in the law that have a widespread impact on CPCS post-conviction clients and may provide grounds for undoing a conviction. For many of these types of assignments the Special Projects Unit has set up a specialized assignment and inquiry procedure. Current projects and contacts for the projects are as follows:
- Hinton Drug Lab cases.
Please call the message line at 888-999-2881 and leave a detailed message or go to https://www.publiccounsel.net/dlclu/druglabinfo and complete the form on that page.
- Breathalyzer cases:
Please call the message line at 617-910-5856 and leave a detailed message or go to https://www.publiccounsel.net/breathalyzer and complete the form on that page
- GPS cases.
Please call the message line at 617-910-5850 and leave a detailed message or go to https://www.publiccounsel.net/gps and complete the form on that page.
Other Post-Conviction Assignments
In limited cases a post-conviction attorney may be authorized to file a Federal Habeas petition in the federal district court or a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
A post-conviction attorney may also file a motion to revise and revoke a sentence within 60 days of the appellate court confirming a conviction. (Note: Trial attorneys, not post-conviction attorneys, are responsible for filing a motion to revise and revoke and for litigating a sentencing appeal to the appellate division of the Superior Court after a conviction in the trial court. Only in limited circumstances may a post-conviction attorney handle this for a current client.)
Finally, post-conviction attorney may be assigned when an incarcerated individual’s mittimus does not accurately reflect the sentence imposed in court or does not accurately credit the individual with jail credit. Please note, we do not assign attorneys when an incarcerated person believe that they have not been properly credited with good time or other institutional credits.
We only assign attorneys to indigent individuals. Individuals who have most recently been represented by a privately-retained attorney as well as individuals who are not incarcerated and have not been found indigent by the Court in the last 2 years will need to be found indigent by the Court prior to our assigning counsel. Our indigency package can be found here.
If an individual has been assigned an attorney and has concerns regarding that attorney’s performance, please contact us.
By Telephone: Clients having difficulty reaching their criminal appellate or post-conviction attorneys, or who are seeking an update on the status of their case, should call 617-482-6212 or email CAUAttorney@Publicounsel.net
By Electronic or Regular Mail: For serious issues concerning the attorney’s representation or to request re-assignment of counsel, the client’s complaint must be in writing and either sent by regular mail to: Attorney Liz Dembitzer, CPCS Private Counsel Division – Criminal Appeals Unit, 75 Federal Street, Boston, MA 02110; or by e-mail to CAUAttorney@publiccounsel.net.
PANEL SUPPORT AND OVERSIGHT
In addition to the assignment of counsel, our unit provides support and oversight to attorneys who litigate the cases we assign.
To qualify for the post-conviction panel, counsel must be a member in good standing of the Massachusetts Bar with substantial experience in criminal law or appellate practice, must undertake a training process, and must agree to work with an appellate mentor for the first few assignments. The training requirement must be completed after the applicant has been approved for post-conviction certification. Acceptance onto the post-conviction panel is on a provisional basis. To become permanent member of the panel, the attorney must successfully complete the mentor program.
The applicant should submit a letter to the Director of Criminal Appeals describing the applicant’s interest in handling criminal appeals and explaining why the applicant’s experience, training, and education qualifies the applicant for appeals and post-conviction assignments. A current resume should be included. Two legal writing samples should be submitted, preferably at least one of which addresses a criminal law issue. The applicant should include the names and email addresses of two references who are familiar with the applicant’s abilities in legal research and writing, criminal law, and/or appellate practice.
The above package should be sent by e-mail attachment to Attorney Liz Dembitzer at email@example.com.
New panel members are required to participate in a six- hour training program (usually held in early November), which covers the appellate process, record assembly, client relations, the performance standards and other relevant topics. New applicants must also attend a brief writing workshop (this is usually a few hours a week for several weeks in a row in the spring) and participate in a moot argument in advance of oral argument in their first three assigned cases. The training program requirements must be fulfilled at the earliest opportunity after the applicant has been accepted onto the post-conviction panel.
We expect new panel members to have experience with Massachusetts criminal law and procedure. If you are interested in being on the CPCS post-conviction panel but do not have enough criminal law and procedure experience, please consider (1) applying to a bar advocate program and to practice in the trial courts for a year or two prior to applying for the post-conviction panel (please see the criminal trial support unit for more information https://www.publiccounsel.net/pc/criminal-trials-bar-advocate-programs/ ) or (2) working as an associate for a post-conviction panel member for a year or so.
If you are interested in working as an associate, please email your resume to CAUAttorney@publiccounsel.net and we will provide your resume to post-conviction panel members who are seeking associate help.
The Private Counsel Division Criminal Appeals Unit provides training opportunities and materials to panel members.
The brief writing workshop and moot court program are available to all members of the panel, as are the monthly brown bag luncheons, which feature speakers discussing various aspects of criminal appellate practice.
Many of our past Post-Conviction trainings have been recorded and are available for review on MyGideon.
The Private Counsel Division – Appeals Unit offers various resources to support panel attorneys in their representation.
Panel Adherence to Performance Standards:
The Private Counsel Division Criminal Appeals Unit is responsible for ensuring panel members’ adherence to our Performance Standards. Attorneys in the unit review panel attorneys’ written work and oral arguments and investigate client complaints.
Process for filing attorney complaints:
By Telephone: Clients having difficulty reaching their criminal appellate or post-conviction attorneys, or who are seeking an update on the status of their case, should call 617-482-6212 or email CAUAttorney@Publicounsel.net.
By Electronic or Regular Mail: For serious issues concerning the attorney’s representation, or to request reassignment of counsel, the client’s complaint must be in writing and either sent by regular mail to: Attorney Liz Dembitzer, CPCS Private Counsel Division – Criminal Appeals Unit, 75 Federal Street, Boston, MA 02110; or by e-mail to CAUAttorney@publiccounsel.net.