Filing Requirements
Appellate Practice
Opening Briefs
Wende Briefs
Sade C. Cases
Supplemental Brief
Reply Brief

In People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436, the California Supreme Court specified the nature of the brief which is to be filed when defense counsel is unable to find a non-frivolous issue to argue. As approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, counsel’s duty is to file a brief:

“that summarizes the procedural and factual history of the case, with citations to the record. He also attests that he has reviewed the record, explained his evaluation of the case to his client, provided the client with a copy of the brief, and informed the client of his right to file a pro se supplemental brief. He further requests that the court independently examine the record for arguable issues . . . [C]ounsel following Wende neither explicitly states that his review led him to conclude that an appeal would be frivolous . . . nor requests leave to withdraw. Instead, he is silent on the merits of the case and expresses his availability to brief any issues on which the court might desire briefing. [Citation.]” (Smith v. Robbins (2000) 528 U.S. 259, 265.)

Deciding whether an issue is merely weak or wholly frivolous is not an easy task. Nonetheless, the courts have provided some guidance by which the merit of an issue is to be measured. As one court has observed:

"an arguable issue on appeal consists of two elements. First, the issue must be one which, in counsel's professional opinion, is meritorious. That is not to say that the contention must necessarily achieve success. Rather, it must have a reasonable potential for success. Second, if successful, the issue must be such that, if resolved favorably to the appellant, the result will either be a reversal or a modification of the judgment." (People v. Johnson (1981) 123 Cal.App.3d 106, 109.)

While reasonable lawyers will no doubt differ on the application of the cited test in a particular case, the reality remains that it is probably as precise a measure as we are likely to obtain.

Before filing a Wende brief, appellate counsel should recall that there is an ethical duty to zealously represent the client and “resolve all doubts and ambiguous legal questions in favor of his or her client.” (McCoy v. Court of Appeals of Wisconsin (1988) 486 U.S. 429, 444.) Thus, if a good faith, albeit weak, issue can be plausibly raised, a Wende brief is not appropriate. This is especially true if it can be maintained that existing law should be changed. (People v. Feggans, supra, 67 Cal.2d 444, 447; attorneys have a duty to advocate for changes in the law.)

If you believe that a Wende brief is appropriate, you must first submit the record to SDAP for its independent review. A Wende brief may not be filed unless a SDAP staff attorney has authorized the filing of the brief.

Finally, with respect to the format of a Wende brief, SDAP recommends, but does not require, the following approach. Counsel should prepare a statement of the proceedings which is detailed enough to alert the appellate court to any motions, objections, evidentiary rulings or instructions which could ordinarily give rise to an arguable issue. If you have identified, researched and rejected as frivolous any specific issues, list those issues along with any favorable applicable law. Do not put in the unfavorable law which caused you to conclude the issue is frivolous. Include with the list of these issues the statement that you are requesting the court's independent review of the record for identification of any arguable issue, and are including the list to assist the court in its review. Do not describe the case as frivolous, do not assert you have been unable to locate arguable issues, or request to withdraw. That way, if the court requests briefing on an issue, you are not disabled from advocating it.

The reference to anything in the record that might arguably support the appeal need not and should not be extended. For example, if a hearsay objection was made by the defense and denied, and your research has determined that no nonfrivolous claim of error can be made, you might state: "An objection to the hearsay testimony of witness X was made and overruled (RT __.) Admission of hearsay, unless it comes within a recognized exception, is error. (Evid. Code, sec. 1200.)" With this statement, the appellate court will know you reviewed the record carefully enough to spot the potential issue. The court is referred to the precise place in the record where the objection occurred, and is given the applicable rule of law from which an arguable issue could conceivably be engendered.

In Smith v. Robbins (2000) 528 U.S. 259, the United States Supreme Court ruled that providing a factual and procedural summary and requesting that the court independently examine the record for arguable issues is sufficient to satisfy the federal constitution.

All briefs filed pursuant to People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436 must be filed electronically with the court with no paper copies submitted. The documents must be submitted in the following format: Documents must be a single, text-searchable PDF file, no more than 5 MB in size, and an exact duplicate of the paper copy. A text-searchable PDF file means the document cannot be scanned. Instead, counsel must use a computer program that converts the word processing file into a PDF file.

SDAP will accept electronic service of Wende briefs. Service shall be made at in PDF format. The subject header should include the case name, case number and the title of document. The name of the buddy staff attorney should be in the e-mail.

The Attorney General must be electronically served all documents in either a PDF or Word format at The subject header should include the case name, case number and the title of the document.

A hard copy should be mailed to the client, the district attorney, the superior court, and any other parties. No other hard copies need to be produced.

The proof of service needs to be modified. (See Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 2.251(g).) Counsel is responsible for maintaining an unaltered copy of the documents that are electronically filed, delievered, or served. (Code Civ. Proc. 1010.6; Cal. Rules of Court, Rules 2.250 et seq.) Additional information and the method for electronic filing and electronic delivery will be found on the court’s website at

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