Criminal Appeal

In a criminal case, a finding of a guilty by the jury may not be the end of things.  If someone feels that they were truly wrongfully convicted, the appeal process is the option that they have available to them. Keep in my however, this is not a get out of jail free card – the appeal process has several steps and processes that are commonly misunderstood.

In this blog, we will attempt to explain a few things about the criminal appeals process.  Keep in mind that this is much different than an appeal from district court to superior court.

What is an appeal?

An appeal is simply asking a higher court to review the decision of the lower court that convicted the defendant.  In an appeal, there are specific challenges that the defendant is making about how his case was handled, usually claiming; jury error, judge error, or attorney error.

What are the affects of a successful appeal?

If a criminal appeal is successful, the conviction gets overturned and one of two things may happen:

  1. The appellate court finds that there is insufficient evidence to re-try the defendant (this does not happen very often) OR
  2. The case is remanded and restored to its initial stages, which means the prosecutor can once again give a plea offer, or dismiss the case.  The defendant can get a new trial if the case is not dismissed and he is not satisfied with the plea offer.

What are the appellate courts looking for?

This topic involves a common misconception.  Appellate courts are not looking for whether or not the defendant was “actually innocent”. Appellate courts limit themselves to mistakes in law that occurred during the trial. 

Examples of some mistakes on appeal:

  • Some evidence was let it that shouldn’t have been
  • The judge gave a jury instruction that was not proper
  • The judge denied a pre-trial motion that should have been granted

Where does the court get the information it is reviewing?

Everything that is considered by the appellate court is limited to items contained in the court transcript.  The court does not simply read through the transcript, however – it is an appellate attorneys’ job to point out the legal errors that should be considered.  This is done through an appellate brief.

An appellate brief is a document that sets forth a legal argument and tries persuade the court to rule in a specific way.  The appellate brief references the trial transcript and provides case law and rules to show how decisions might have been wrong at the trial level.

Criminal defense is a very complicated matter.  If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime or has been convicted of a crime and you are interested in an appeal, contact us.

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