Were You Found Guilty at Trial? File an Appeal.
The worst word a criminal defendant can hear is “guilty.” However, that doesn’t mean the fight for freedom is over. If you are unhappy with your guilty verdict, you have a viable option called an “appeal.” An appeal sends your case to a higher court for review which allows more sets of eyes to examine the details and judgment of your reported crime. Think of an appeal as an extra layer of “protection” that gives you a second chance in the criminal court system.
Only you, the defendant, can appeal a lower court’s guilty verdict. The prosecution cannot appeal a not guilty verdict. Thus, if you are found guilty of a crime, you have the right to appeal the judgment to an appellate court in your geographic area. Having a higher court review your case gives you another shot at potentially reducing or dismissing your charges imposed by the lower court.
It’s important to know that appeals are not retrials or new trials, nor do appellate courts consider new witnesses or evidence. An appeals court will only review the lower court’s record of your case and determine if there were errors in the trial or the judge poorly interpreted the law.
Key Terms to Know
Before we examine how the appeals process works, it may benefit you to understand the following key terms:
- Appellant/petitioner: The party who files an appeal
- Appellee/respondent: The party who receives the appeal
- Notice of appeal: The document that the appellant files to begin an appeal
- Oral arguments: Before making a decision, the appeals court sometimes gives each party’s attorney about 15 minutes to present an oral argument and answer questions
- Brief: A written argument consisting of the appellant’s view of the facts and arguments that support their efforts to reverse the lower court’s judgment
- Harmless errors: Errors that did not impact the trial jury’s judgment
- Reversible errors: Errors or law that are deemed harmful
- Majority opinion: An opinion that the majority of the court agrees with
- Dissenting opinion: An opinion issued by judges who disagree with a decision
Summary of the Appeals Process
Each criminal case is different, but the appeal procedure is generally the same for all. As such, let’s examine how the appeals process works:
- The defendant appeals the lower court’s judgment in their case
- The defendant or appellant, files a notice of appeal, kickstarting the time period in which they must file a brief
- The appellee responds with an answering brief
- The appellant may respond to the appellee’s brief
- Both sides present oral arguments
- While hearing oral arguments, the appellate court determines whether the lower court made harmless and/or reversible errors in applying the law
- After hearing oral arguments, the appeals court will discuss the case and make a written decision
- The decision will consist of the majority opinion and sometimes a dissenting opinion and concurring opinion
- If the appeals court agrees with the lower court’s judgment or dismisses the defendant’s appeal altogether, the case will end unless the defendant appeals to a higher court
- If the appeals court reverses the lower court’s judgment, then it will send the case back to a lower court, or trial court. It may have the following orders:
- A new trial be held
- The trial court's judgment be modified or corrected
- The trial court reconsider the facts, take additional evidence, or consider the case in light of a recent decision by the appellate court
Questions? We Have Answers.
Our Denver appellate attorneys at Gerash Steiner & Blanton, P.C. understand that the appeals process can be confusing and far from straightforward, especially for those who haven’t experienced the criminal court system before. Our lawyers obtain a wealth of legal knowledge and years of experience in the appellate court under their belt, therefore we can help clarify any questions or uncertainty you may have regarding the appeals process.
To learn more, contact us at (303) 732-5048 today!