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Wait a Minute, Mister Postman: Vermont Adopts Prison Mailbox Rule for Appeals Filed by Unrepresented Incarcerated Inmates

In In re Joseph Bruyette, 2016 VT 3 (January 8, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court adopted the prison mailbox rule that a notice of appeal is deemed filed for purposes of the appeal deadline when an unrepresented inmate delivers the notice of appeal to the prison authorities for forwarding to the court clerk.

Issue: The issue is how to calculate the timeliness of an appeal from an unrepresented incarcerated inmate for purposes of the 30-day appeal deadline set forth in V.R.A.P. 4(a)(1). The petitioner – incarcerated in Kentucky, serving a 23.5-year sentence resulting from convictions in Vermont – filed a motion in the Rutland Civil Division to vacate or correct an illegal sentence on August 26, 2014. The Rutland Civil Division dismissed his motion on March 4, 2015. Thereafter, petitioner filed an appeal of that dismissal. Although his appeal transmittal letter was dated March 27, 2015, the Court did not receive his notice until April 6, 2015, which was one day after the filing deadline. Petitioner invoked the “prison mailbox rule,” arguing that he had no control over the private prison’s mailing practices, and therefore the Court should look at the date on which the inmate delivered the notice to the prison authorities, rather than the date it was received by the Vermont court system. The Court had not previously decided whether the prison mailbox rule applies in Vermont.

Holding: The Court adopted the prison mailbox rule. Accordingly, the Court held that an unrepresented prisoner is deemed to have filed a notice of appeal at the time it is delivered, properly addressed, to the proper prison authorities to be forwarded to the clerk of the court. In this case, it was clear from the record that, under the prison mailbox rule, petitioner’s notice of appeal was timely. The Court noted the public policy rationale for adopting the prison mailbox rule, namely that unrepresented prison inmates have no option but to rely upon the prison authorities for mailing letters, unlike other represented or unrepresented parties who may avail themselves of personal delivery to the court or express delivery by other means.

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