The Federal Rules of Inmate Appeals

69 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2017 Last revised: 11 Jun 2018

See all articles by Catherine T. Struve

Catherine T. Struve

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: 2018


The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure turn fifty in 2018. During the Rules’ half-century of existence, the number of federal appeals by self-represented, incarcerated litigants has grown dramatically. This article surveys ways in which the procedure for inmate appeals has evolved over the past 50 years, and examines the challenges of designing procedures with confined litigants in mind. In the initial decades under the Appellate Rules, the most visible developments concerning the procedure for inmate appeals arose from the interplay between court decisions and the federal rulemaking process. But, as court dockets swelled, the circuits also developed local case management practices that significantly affect inmate appeals. And, in the 1990s, Congress enacted legislation that produced major changes in inmate litigation, including inmate appeals. In the coming years, the most notable new driver of change in the procedure for inmate appeals may be the advent of opportunities for electronic court filing within prisons. That nascent development illustrates the ways in which the particulars of procedure in inmate appeals are shaped by systems in prisons, jails, and other facilities – and underscores the salience of local court practices and institutional partnerships.

Keywords: federal appellate procedure, pro se litigants, inmate litigants, prisoner litigants, habeas, in forma pauperis, AEDPA, PLRA, Prison Litigation Reform Act, criminal procedure, criminal appeals, prisoners’ rights, civil rights, prison mailbox rule, electronic filing, CM/ECF

Suggested Citation

Struve, Catherine T., The Federal Rules of Inmate Appeals (2018). Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 50, p. 247, 2018, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 17-45, Available at SSRN:

Catherine T. Struve (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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