Direct Appeals and Screenings

DIRECT APPEALS

A direct appeal is a review by an appellate court of the trial court proceedings to determine whether the proceedings were lawful.  Typically, direct appeals are from final judgments after a trial, conditional plea or a motion for new trial, but clients can seek “interlocutory review” of a trial court’s order in limited circumstances.

Any youth who was adjudicated delinquent or as a youthful offender, or convicted of murder or manslaughter, has the right to a direct appeal from a final judgment in Massachusetts.  Because youth are indigent as a matter of law, the youth does not have to pay the expenses of the appeal, such as the transcript (the verbatim account of in-court proceedings), and is entitled to the appointment of counsel for the appeal at no cost.

An appeal argues that one or more errors occurred in the trial process.  If these mistakes are serious enough, the appellate court will “remand,” or send the case back to the trial court, usually for a retrial.  The appellate court does not hear new or additional evidence and does not decide guilt or innocence.  Rather, the question the appellate court decides is whether the errors affected the outcome.

Attorneys representing youth on direct appeal meet with clients, review case files, write appellate briefs and argue cases before the Appeals Court or the Supreme Judicial Court  of Massachusetts.

SCREENINGS

Unlike a direct appeal, there is no automatic right to counsel to file post-trial motions in cases where the individual pled or where the direct appeal is over. But because the laws and procedures for juvenile cases are constantly evolving, YAD Appeals appoints “screening counsel” to investigate the facts and law to determine if the client would benefit from the assistance of counsel in litigating a post-trial motion.

The screening counsel’s role is limited to conducting an investigation.  Screening counsel cannot represent the client in court unless YAD authorizes counsel to pursue a collateral attack of the adjudication, conviction or sentence.

Certain aspects of the attorney-client relationship exist between screening counsel and the client, such as confidentiality. However, screening counsel is not the client’s lawyer in the traditional sense, but is more akin to a legal and factual investigator. Once screening counsel has assessed the factual issues, counsel must apply the law and contemplate possible avenues of relief for the client. As a lawyer, screening counsel is bound by ethical constraints not to advance a frivolous claim.

Once the factual and legal investigation is complete, screening counsel drafts a screening report and submits it to YAD’s Juvenile Appeals Unit. YAD Appeals will then screen the case “in” or “out.”  If screened “out,” YAD Appeals will notify the client of the decision, ending the screening process and the screening counsel-client relationship. If screened “in,” YAD Appeals will then authorize counsel to pursue a collateral attack of the adjudication, conviction or sentence.

Recently the Supreme Judicial Court, in Commonwealth v. Francis, 485 Mass. 86 (2020), held that if CPCS screens a case but declines to appoint counsel, any meritorious issue with legal precedent that was not raised during the screening process might later be waived. This decision may adversely impact indigent people who chose to file pro se motions. As such, if you or your loved one has a case you would like to have reviewed, please complete the Screening Inquiry Form  and email it to yadappeals@publiccounsel.net.