Our state appellate courts have long held that a timely notice of appeal is a jurisdictional requirement. See, e.g., State v. Patterson. (For an interesting discussion on this topic, see section 28.02[3] in Beth and Matt’s treatise.)

Federal courts, on the other hand, have taken a different approach. For example, the Supreme Court in 2017 clarified that unless prescribed by statute, a rule-based timeline for filing a notice of appeal is “not jurisdictional” but is instead a “mandatory claim-processing rule.” Hamer v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of Chi., 138 S. Ct. 13, 16 (2017). As some civil notice of appeal deadlines are set by statute, the time for filing a notice of appeal in those cases is jurisdictional. But because criminal notice of appeal deadlines are set only by rule, they are not “jurisdictional.”

So if a deadline is only a “claim-processing rule,” does a party still need to follow it? Of course. But what amount of discretion does an appellate court have when a party fails to comply with a claim-processing rule? For example, what if a trial court judge misleads a party about his appellate rights—does that excuse the party’s compliance with the claim-processing rule? No, the Fourth Circuit recently reiterated in United States v. Marsh.

In Marsh, a criminal defendant entered a guilty plea on certain charges. At sentencing, the trial court failed to advise the defendant of his appellate rights—in violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit held that the trial court’s error did not excuse the defendant’s untimely notice of appeal. Judge Harris, writing for the majority, acknowledged that the appeal deadline in Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure is “not jurisdictional.” Nevertheless, the deadline “is a mandatory claim-processing rule that must be strictly applied,” and therefore “equitable doctrines are unavailable to extend the deadline.” Although the court left open the possibility of a different result if a trial court makes some affirmative statement that a filing will be considered timely, in this case the appellate court felt it had no choice but to dismiss the appeal as untimely.

Chief Judge Gregory dissented from that holding and lamented the effect of the majority’s decision “that appellate judges are required to enforce a nonjurisdictional deadline even when a trial court caused a defendant to miss the deadline.” In his view, the deadlines of Appellate Rule 4 only come into play after the defendant is made aware of his appellate rights in accordance with the Rules of Criminal Procedure. According to Chief Judge Gregory, the effect of the majority’s decision is that the defendant “bear[s] the burden of a judge’s mistake.”

If a similar situation arose in our state appellate courts, there is little doubt that the result would have been the same. But does the Marsh decision represent a pushback against cases like Hamer in the federal system? If equitable defenses are not available, is a “mandatory” claim-processing rule pseudo-jurisdictional?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

–Kip Nelson