If you are convicted of a crime, you may be able to appeal the verdict to a higher court. If you are found not guilty, constitutional protections make it very difficult for your opponent, the prosecutor, to appeal the case. The exact procedure for filing an appeal depends on which court will hear your appeal - a federal court or a state court.
Your Grounds for Appeal Are Limited
If you entered a guilty plea at your trial, you usually cannot appeal your case. Certain exceptions exist, however. You might claim that you were convicted under an unconstitutional law. Another restriction on appeal is that you can only appeal issues that were raised during your original trial.
For example, you may claim that an expert witness called by the prosecutor is not really an expert. If your lawyer didn't object to the expert's qualifications at trial, your appeal may be denied. If your lawyer makes a serious mistake that harms you, you may appeal claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.
Strict Deadlines Must Be Met
Although the criminal appeals process varies state by state, the criminal procedure law of many states is based on federal law. In federal courts, if you want to appeal a verdict, you must file a short "notice of appeal" within 10 days of the verdict.
Within the next 10 days, you must apply for a copy of the trial court transcript and send it to the appeals court. Within 40 days of filing the transcript, you must file a formal legal brief with the appeals court. If your lawyer misses any of these deadlines, you might be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel.
New Evidence Will Not Be Allowed
Appeals courts make decisions based on the transcripts of the original trial and the appeals documents submitted by your lawyer and the prosecutor. You cannot call witnesses, give testimony or submit articles into evidence.
Your appeal will be decided by a judge, not a jury. In most cases, the judge will simply review the documents and make a decision without allowing oral argument. If the court agrees to hear oral arguments, it is generally thought that the defendant has a better chance of winning the appeal.
Winning an Appeal May Lead to a Retrial
If you win on appeal, your conviction may be overturned and you may walk free. On the other hand, the appeals judge may simply return your case to the trial court for a new trial. You may then proceed with the new trial or, if the prosecutor is willing, you might negotiate a plea bargain.
Depending on why you appealed your case in the first place, the appeals court judge may uphold your conviction but send your case back to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing, where you might receive a more lenient sentence.
A Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the appeal of criminal verdicts is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.