August 23, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Phrase “Entered on the Criminal Docket” Means Judgment Must be Entered Publicly to Trigger Deadline to Appeal

The Tenth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Mendoza on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

The Tenth Circuit determined whether a judgment was “entered on the criminal docket”  for purposes of Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(6) if it is noted only on an internal district court document that is not publicly accessible.

Francisco Mendoza pled guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. The district court sentenced him to 135 months’ imprisonment and sealed the judgment. This filing was not noted or reflected on the docket sheet available to the public. The only evidence in the record that judgment was entered is a supplemental appendix filed by the government which contains a “Criminal Docket” titled “Internal Use Only.” Mendoza later filed a pro se notice of appeal. The government moved to dismiss the appeal as untimely.

A defendant choosing to appeal a criminal case must file a notice of appeal within fourteen days after “the entry of either the judgment or the order being appealed.” Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A)(i). The deadline to appeal begins to run upon entry of judgment. A judgment or order is entered for purposes of this Rule 4(b) when it is entered on the criminal docket.

The government argues that judgment was “entered on the criminal docket” when the court filed a sealed judgment and noted this filing on a document titled “Criminal Docket . . . Internal Use Only.” Mendoza contends that judgment was never entered because the publicly available docket sheet contains no indication that a judgment has issued.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the procedure followed in this case did not satisfy Rule 4(b)(6). Dockets and docket sheets have traditionally been considered public documents. Consistent with a centuries-long history of public access to dockets, the Court held that the phrase “entered on the criminal docket” contemplates public notation that judgment has been entered. Entry on a list of filings maintained for internal court use and inaccessible to the public did not qualify under the meaning of Rule 4(b)(6). Because judgment was never entered on Mendoza’s criminal docket, the Court rejected the government’s contention that his appeal was untimely. Nevertheless, the Court denied Mendoza’s substantive claim on the merits.

Government’s motion to dismiss the appeal DENIED and Mendoza’s sentence AFFIRMED.

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