Rule 5:17, which governs petitions for appeal, includes a few important changes that practitioners should note.
First, Rule 5:17(c)(1) clarifies what you need to include in your assignments of error: Under a separate heading called “Assignments of Error,” the petition must list, “clearly and concisely without extraneous argument” the specific errors in the rulings below upon which you will rely.
That’s all well and good; appellants have long been required to “lay their finger” on the trial court’s error, as it were.
But the new Rule requires even greater digital precision: “An exact reference to the page(s) of the transcript, written statement of facts, or the record where the alleged error has been preserved in the trial court . . . shall be included with each assignment of error.” I suspect that they’re not kidding. Rumor has long held that, when a petition arrives at the Court, it is assigned to a staff attorney who scours the record to confirm that assignments of error have been preserved. Imagine how much simpler it will be to police compliance with this Rule (and how much easier it will make life for the staff attorneys).
Next, as previously discussed, Rule 5:17(c)(3) deletes the requirement that citations to Virginia cases include a cite to the Southeastern Reporter, and Rule 5:17(f) gives petitioners the option of using a page count or a (materially shorter) word count.
In a heretofore under-discussed change, Rule 5:17(c)(5) requires references to the record in your statement of facts. Previously, the coordinate rule had required such references only “when there is any possibility that the appellee may question the statement.” Got that? Statements of facts now need citations to the record. Period. No more “fudging” it. No more making stuff up.
Moving on, Rule 5:17(c)(6) requires that, for each assignment of error, the standard of review and the argument–including principles of law and authorities–shall be stated in one place and not scattered throughout the brief. The reference here to the standard of review is a new addition–but everyone reading this blog knows how important the standard of review is, right? (Don’t make me cite Somerville again.)
Finally, Rule 5:17(h) provides guidance for Anders appeals. Anders is a pen-pal-for-life program that SCOTUS instituted to help criminal defense lawyers stay in touch with their angriest former clients. It also scares gutless appellate practitioners away from court-appointed work. For further guidance, see Rule 5:17(h).