In a per curiam opinion, the Alabama Supreme Court held that Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 24.1 did not prohibit a defendant from filing a written motion for a new trial with the trial judge in open court. Ex parte Jett, No. 1060281, 2007 WL 2070352 (Ala. July 20, 2007).
Xavier Jett was sentenced to life in prison following his convictions for attempted murder and discharging a gun into an occupied dwelling. At his sentencing hearing on April 25, 2006, Mr. Jett filed a written motion for a new trial with the trial judge in open court. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the motion is contained in the clerk’s record, the Alabama Judicial Information System online case action summary notes that it was filed on April 25, 2006, and the handwritten case action summary shows it was denied on May 26, 2006.
Mr. Jett filed his notice of appeal on June 20, 2006. When the Court of Criminal Appeals began reviewing the appeal, it contacted the circuit court clerk, who stated that the motion for new trial had not been filed in that office. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the motion filed with the trial judge was not forwarded to the clerk and therefore, the motion was not properly filed pursuant to Rule 24.1(b), which provides:
A motion for a new trial must be filed no later than thirty (30) days after sentence is pronounced. After a denial of a motion for a new trial, the previously filed notice of appeal shall be deemed to have been filed as of the date of the denial of the motion and shall include an appeal from the denial of the motion.
The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the notice of appeal was untimely and dismissed Mr. Jett’s appeal. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the motion for new trial was effectively filed and whether the Court of Criminal Appeals violated Mr. Jett’s due process rights when it contacted the circuit clerk’s office without giving him notice and an opportunity to heard. (The court did not decide the latter issue because it held that the new trial motion was effectively filed, but Justice See wrote specially and concluded that the Court of Criminal Appeals should have afforded Mr. Jett notice and an opportunity to be head before it noticed the circuit court clerk’s records.)
The Alabama Supreme Court wrote that Rule 24.1 does not specify the manner in which a filing must be made. Given that the court’s rules specifically provide for papers to be filed in the clerk’s office in certain circumstances, the “absence of language requiring the motion to be filed in the office of the clerk of the trial court suggests that a party may file a motion for a new trial directly with the trial judge if the judge is willing to accept it for filing in this manner.” Ex parte Jett, No. 1060281, 2007 WL 2070352, at *3 (Ala. July 20,2007). The reference to other Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Appellate Procedure that specifically allow a litigant to file a motion for new trial directly with the trial judge and permit a criminal defendant to give an oral notice of appeal directly to the trial judge at sentencing “actually demonstrates that the definition of “filing” is broader than the Court of Criminal Appeals understood it to be.” Id.
The court held that, because Rule 24.1 does not prohibit the filing of a new trial motion with the trial judge and other rules contemplate filings directly with the trial judge in certain circumstances, Mr. Jett’s “filing of a written motion for a new trial directly with the trial judge – a motion stamped “filed in open court” appears in the clerk’s record – was sufficient to toll the period within which to file a notice of appeal.” Id. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in dismissing his appeal on the ground that Mr. Jett’s notice of appeal was untimely filed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for the Court of Criminal Appeals to consider the merit’s of Mr. Jett’s appeal.