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Mootness And Related Doctrines

No appeal will lie when post-trial events—for example, the death of the convict—render the case moot. Most jurisdictions have now departed from the traditional view that an appeal is moot whenever the sentence has been fully satisfied—that is, when the defendant has paid any fine and served the full period of any imprisonment or probation. A limited departure from the traditional position, in cases in which a fine has been paid, treats an appeal as alive if state law permits remittance of the fine upon overturning of the conviction.

A far broader and more common departure from the traditional view permits defendants to appeal, even where a sentence has been fully served, in order to avoid harmful collateral consequences of criminal convictions (e.g., possible enhanced punishment under recidivism statutes or testimonial impeachment should the convict testify in the future) (Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 50–58 (1968)). When collateral consequences are presumed to exist, as they are in many jurisdictions, this doctrine approaches in practice, if not in theory, the view taken by a few jurisdictions that quite apart from collateral consequences, a conviction is never moot because the "stigma of guilt" remains even after the sentence has been satisfied (e.g., Jackson v. People, 376 P.2d 991, 994 (Colo. 1962)). However, an appeal that challenges the legality not of the conviction but only of a sentence that has been fully served is likely to be deemed moot, unless collateral consequences from the harsher sentence can be demonstrated (North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 248 (1971)).

Concurrent sentence doctrine. Where a defendant had been sentenced to equal concurrent sentences on different counts, some appellate courts, after upholding the conviction on one count, will not consider challenges to the remaining counts. In Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784 (1969), the Supreme Court concluded that this so-called concurrent sentence doctrine could not, in light of Sibron, be justified on mootness grounds but stated that it "may have some continuing validity as a rule of judicial convenience" (p. 791). Following Benton, all but two of the federal circuits have embraced the concurrent sentence doctrine as a discretionary matter of judicial administration; only a few state courts have followed suit.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawAppeal - Appellate Structures, Appeals By The Defense, Extraordinary Writs, Mootness And Related Doctrines, Scope Of Appellate Review