When Courts Get It Wrong
Sometimes courts make mistakes. When those mistakes happen, wrongfully convicted criminal defendants might have a right to appeal a trial verdict. As long as the defendant has grounds, he or she may file an appeal. The ground is the legally justified for the appeal.
If you believe your trial verdict was a mistake, you might be able to appeal it. But a trial verdict appeal isn't something to be taken lightly. Simply being unhappy with your conviction isn't grounds for an appeal. In some cases, however, a trial verdict appeal can bring justice to a wrongfully convicted defendant.
Your right to appeal a trial verdict is protected under the U.S. Constitution. As soon as a conviction has been entered, you can file an appeal. The purpose of an appeal is to have a higher court—the appellate court—review the decision made by the court that tried you (usually a superior court.) You won't be tried again, nor will the appellate court operate the same way the trial court did. Let's go over the basic process of a criminal court appeal and when it's a good idea to file an appeal.
The Appeals Process
Once a verdict has been entered and you are convicted, you can then file an appeal with the appellate court. Two appeals courts handle appeals in California. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court handles misdemeanor appeals while the California Court of Appeal handles felony appeals. You will file your Notice of Appeal with the appeals court appropriate for your case. The appeals court will closely review the records of the proceedings of the trial court. It will not accept new evidence or hear from more witnesses. In this respect, the appeals process is fairly self-contained and hands off from your perspective.
The appeals court is simply looking for legal errors in the proceedings. Specifically, it is looking for errors that violated your rights and significantly affected the outcome of the trial. It is not looking for minor errors that would not have influenced the verdict. Even judges and attorneys make errors. Sometimes those errors result in a wrongful conviction or an illegal sentence. The job of the appeals attorney is to point out the legal error(s) and argue the error affected the verdict.
In the review, the appeals court will look at transcripts of the proceedings and written documents that were submitted in the case (e.g., briefs, motions, notes.)
Again, the appeals court will be looking for legal errors, which could occur if:
- You were falsely arrested
- The judge improperly admitted or excluded evidence
- There wasn't enough evidence
- The judge abused his or her discretion when sentencing (i.e. the sentence was unreasonable)
- The jury wasn't given proper instructions
- You had ineffectual assistance of counsel (i.e., your attorney acted unprofessionally or your representation was substandard)
- There was prosecutorial misconduct (i.e., the prosecuting attorney acted unethically), or
The appeals court will not make any decisions on facts, such as whether or not the defendant was guilty. It is up to the trial court to decide on facts, and the appeals courts defer to the trial court's decisions.
The Objective of an Appeal
Winning your appeal doesn't necessarily mean you walk away without a conviction. The purpose of the appeal is to get the court to recognize the legal error and remedy it. The remedy will depend on the grounds for the appeal but will typically be a reversal, a new trial, or a remand.
A reversal occurs when the court reverses the conviction and dismisses your charges. This is obviously the ideal appeals remedy, but it's generally limited to cases where there was insufficient evidence to convict you in the first place.
If your attorney provided substandard legal representation, and you can prove that, the appeals court might grant you a new trial so you can be represented by another attorney.
The appeals court will remand your case if the trial court committed the error and can fix it. Your case will go back to the trial court so the court can remedy the error. For example, the appeals court might remand your case if your sentence was illegal. The trial court would then resentence you.
If you've been found guilty at trial, don't give up hope just yet. You have a right to appeal the verdict, but don't try to handle the appeal on your own. Work with a California criminal defense attorney with experience handling trials and appeals. A knowledgeable defense attorney can sift through the trial records to determine where mistakes and oversights were made. Then, he or she can help you with the complicated process of filing an appeal according to the rules of the court, giving you a second chance at justice.
If you are in the Visalia, Hanford or Tulare area and are facing criminal charges, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens is here to help you. California criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens can help you appeal your trial verdict. Attorney Martens has handled thousands of cases over a span of ten years of criminal defense practice and can fight hard for your rights. Contact attorney Christopher Martens for experienced criminal defense counsel today. Contact our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.