The Limits of Wende

Anyone who does criminal appellate work by appointment for indigent defendants is familiar with People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436. Wende requires the court of appeal to conduct an independent review of the record for error when appointed counsel files a brief representing that he or she has reviewed the record and found no arguable issues. At least, this review is required on the defendant’s first appeal as of right.

People v. Dobson, case no. F053531 (5th Dist. Apr. 16, 2008) teaches the limits of Wende. Dobson was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a state mental hospital. Six years later, he was released to outpatient status briefly before the court granted a petition to revoke his outpatient status. Dobson then petitioned for release on the ground of regained sanity and lost.

Dobson appealed, and his appointed counsel on appeal filed a Wende brief asking the court of appeal to independently review the record. The issue decided by the court here is whether they are required to conduct such an independent review under the circumstances.

The court of appeal concludes an independent review of the record is not mandated by Wende and dismisses the appeal. A petition for release is not a criminal proceeding, and the due process protections nonetheless present make an erroneous decision sufficiently unlikely that an independent review isn’t warranted.

There’s more to the analysis, of course, and the case serves as a pretty good primer on the test for evaluating when independent review is necessary.