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Wrongly Convicted of A Crime, What You Should Know About Appeals

gavel-3_180x120-150x119Anyone convicted of a crime has the right to appeal that conviction if they believe a legal error has occurred. If you have been convicted of a crime and plan to appeal, you are no longer known as the defendant, you are now the appellant in the case.

In criminal cases, an appeal asks a higher court to look at the record of the trial proceedings to determine if a legal error occurred that may have affected the outcome of the trial or the sentence imposed by the judge.

A defendant that is appealing a verdict has the same rights as he or she had in the lower court. This includes the right to be represented by an attorney appointed at the public’s expense, if the defendant cannot afford one. Also, depending on the severity of the crime and the risk of flight, the defendant may also have the right to bail until the appeal is resolved.

What Can I Do If I Am Wrongly Convicted, Or My Sentence Is Unfair?

After conviction and sentencing, a defendant has the opportunity to file an appeal of his sentence. If the conviction results from a guilty plea, the defendant may have to ask for “leave” or permission to appeal the conviction. If the conviction results from a trial, the defendant has an absolute right to appeal. An appeal is not a retrial of the case, but is an examination of the trial record to ensure that proceedings were conducted in a fair manner.

What Happens When I Appeal?

The parties to an appeal submit written “briefs” to the appellate court, along with a copy of the trial court transcript and any exhibits that were used at trial. Oral arguments may be scheduled. Arguments are typically very short in duration, and tend to be academic in nature, focusing on legal issues.

Appellate review of a conviction is a bit like watching a videotape of a football game, to look for errors by the referees. If the referees make a lot of errors in a close game, you may get the feeling that their mistakes changed the result of the game. However, even if they made a lot of errors, the score can be so lopsided that you conclude that the errors did not affect the outcome. The judges on appeal are looking for errors which may have changed the verdict, and will disregard “harmless errors,” which they believe did not have an effect. They judges will also disregard what they deem to be mistakes of “trial strategy” – a concept that is akin to when the coach chooses a play that doesn’t work out the way he intended.

What types of “errors” occur at trial, and what do they mean for my appeal?

Among the types of error you may hear described are the following:

  • Fundamental Error An error which goes to the heart of the case, and which can be considered by the court “in the interest of justice,” even if the appellant fails to properly raise the issue on appeal.
  • Harmful Error An error which the appellate court concludes had a probable impact on the outcome of the trial.
  • Harmless Error An error which the appellate court concludes had no effect on the outcome of a trial. For example, if a defendant confesses to a murder, and the prosecution has his fingerprints on the murder weapon, the use of inadmissible “hearsay” testimony is likely to be found “harmless,” due to the “overwhelming evidence” against the defendant.
  • Invited Error Where the appellant asks the trial court to make a ruling which is actually erroneous, that party cannot later appeal the trial court’s decision on the basis of that error.
  • Reversible Error An error which causes the appellate court to overturn the lower court’s decision is a “reversible error.”
What do they mean by “procedural due process” and “substantive due process”?

On appeal, you may hear the alleged violation of a defendant’s rights described as a violation of his “procedural due process” rights or his “substantive due process” rights.

Procedural Due Process

Procedural due process involves the safeguard’s to a person’s liberty and property, set forth in the Constitution, such as the right to an attorney, the right to appointed counsel if you are indigent, the right to compel witnesses to appear at trial, the right to confront prosecution witnesses at trial, and the right to obtain a transcript of trial proceedings.

Substantive Due Process

Substantive due process involves the broad notion that a person shall not be arbitrarily deprived of his life, liberty or property. If a person is deprived of the opportunity to appeal a court decision, or is convicted when the prosecutor fails to produce “exculpatory evidence” which tends to prove his innocence, his substantive due process rights have been violated. Source ExpertLaw

Criminal Defense Attorney Standing Up for Your Rights

Our criminal justice system can be overwhelming and frightening. The incarceration rate in the United States is much higher than that of other industrialized countries. Prison sentences are getting longer and more frequent. If you face the possibility of being accused of a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early in the process as possible, preferably even before questioning or investigation by the police. A skilled attorney can fight for your legal and constitutional rights.

West Palm Beach lawyer Andrew Stine focuses exclusively on criminal defense cases and has an exceptional track record of results spanning the last ten years. A former public defender and medic for the U.S. Army, Mr. Stine is known for being proactive. He represents his clients aggressively, armed with individual attention and a passionate respect for their rights to due process.

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