On August 14, 2012, the Court of Appeals of Virginia published a joint opinion for three appeals in which it dismissed the criminal defendants’ appeals because of the failure of their attorneys to file Petitions for Appeal that followed the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia are a complex series of dozens of procedural guidelines for how to file an appeal, and include everything from when documents need to be filed to what color the cover of a brief should be and how big the margins can be on each page. Even more confusing for the inexperienced attorney, the rules are different in the Court of Appeals than they are in the Supreme Court of Virginia.
What is newsworthy is not that the Court dismissed some appeals – that happens frequently when inexperienced attorneys attempt to do an appeal without assistance from an experienced colleague. What is newsworthy is that the Court dismissed the appeals for errors that it had, in the past, allowed lawyers to correct without dismissing the cases. This opinion comes in the wake of 2011’s Virginia Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Commonwealth, where the state Supreme Court applied similar harsh penalties to the defendant for an error by his attorney. It seems clear that these cases mark a much tougher stance from Virginia’s appeals courts about rules violations.