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Florida Supreme Court Reinstates Prisoner’s Appeal That Was Dismissed for Lack of Prison Date Stamp

by David M. Reutter

On February 4, 2022, the Supreme Court of Florida held that the state’s First District Court of Appeal erred in not accepting a prisoner’s notice of appeal for lack of a prison date stamp since prison mail logs indicated the notice was timely turned over to prison officials for mailing under FL.R. App. P. 9.420(a)(2).

The prisoner, Frederick L. Wade, is serving a 45-year sentence for second-degree murder in the state Department of Corrections. He filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief, which was denied on November 4, 2020. But the order was not filed with the court clerk until November 5, a Saturday, meaning his 30-day deadline to file a notice of appeal expired on December 7, 2020, per Fla. R. Gen. Prac. & Jud. Admin. 2.514(a)(1)(c).

Wade gave his notice of appeal to prison officials to mail on December 7, 2020. It was stamped and docketed by the circuit court clerk four days later on December 11. So after reviewing the notice, the First District ordered Wade to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed as untimely.

In response, Wade provided a copy of the prison’s mail log indicating that he delivered his notice to prison officials for mailing on December 7, 2020. But on April 12, 2021, the First District dismissed the appeal as untimely, denying also Wade’s subsequent request for rehearing.

Aided by attorneys Susanne and Rick Sichta of Sichta Law in Jacksonville, Wade filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Supreme Court of Florida to seek relief. In response, the First District and the State maintained that dismissal of the appeal was proper, arguing that rule 9.420(a)(2) does not contemplate the use of prison mail logs to establish the timely filing of a document. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed.

It allowed that Wade’s notice did not contain a prison date stamp indicating when it was handed to prison officials, and the certificate of service had no dates set forth. Thus, it was correctly assumed by the First District that Wade’s notice was filed on December 11—that is, until the prison mail logs showed Wade mailed it on December 7. The Supreme Court noted that Rule 9.420(a)(2)(A) presumes a document is filed when handed to prison officials if a prisoner uses the “system designed for legal mail ... and the institution’s system records that date.”

While the same rule also provides for the use of a prison date stamp, prisoners have no control over the system in the prison’s use, the Court noted. Wade did exactly as the rule required, and his notice of appeal was timely filed, so the Court ordered the First District to reinstate his appeal. See: Wade v. State, 334 So. 3d 600 (Fla. 2022). 

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Related legal case

Wade v. State