If you believe you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime in California, you have legal recourse through the process of appeal. In an appeal, you will be required to show that errors made in your original trial led to your wrongful conviction or wrong sentencing. Those errors must be detailed in your arguments to the higher court, known as the appellate court. Those errors must have been substantial enough to impact the outcome of the case (your conviction), which means they were “prejudicial.”
In an appeal, the transcripts of your trial will be examined by the appellate panel of judges. This is not a new trial and new evidence is not generally presented. It is an examination of what went on in your trial, reviewing everything said or done by your defense attorney, the prosecutor, the witnesses, and the judge. Without legal errors made in that trial, you will have no basis for an appeal. At Appel & Morse, we can thoroughly review your case to determine where you stand in terms of making an appeal and delving into the matter more exhaustively in order to move your case forward where appropriate.
In the meantime, it is important to understand the common grounds for making an appeal, which we outline below.
Legal Errors that Form the Basis of an Appeal
- You were falsely arrested. This could be based on an illegal search and seizure that took place by law enforcement or the fact that they did not have probable cause for arresting you. For example, they searched your house or vehicle without a proper search warrant or they arrested you without an arrest warrant.
- Evidence was improperly admitted or excluded. Judges have the authority to decide what evidence may be used against you by the prosecutor in the trial and what evidence your defense lawyer may use in your favor. If a judge makes a bad decision on this matter, it may be a productive issue that can be used to substantiate your appeal.
- There was not enough evidence to warrant your conviction by the jury. The prosecutor must prove that you committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the jury convicts you without that standard of proof being accomplished, then the conviction may have been based on emotion instead of facts.
- Your defense attorney was ineffective. This is legally called “ineffective assistance of counsel.” It means that your attorney made legal errors and gave such a poor performance that your constitutional right to a fair trial was violated and the incompetence led to prejudice by the jury or the judge.
- The prosecutor engaged in some type of misconduct that led to a prejudicial result. For example, the prosecutor made comments about inadmissible evidence to the jury or the prosecutor made deliberate misstatements about admissible evidence. These comments may have resulted in the jury making decisions based, once again, on emotion instead of facts.
- The jury engaged in some type of misconduct. This could consist of actual illegal conduct or something inappropriate. An example is a juror talking to other people besides the other jurors about the case or engaging in his or her own “investigation” into the case. That investigation could prejudice the juror with “evidence” or information that was not presented in court. The jury’s job is to make its own, independent decision based on the facts presented at trial, not elsewhere.
- The judge made mistakes when sentencing. Sentences often must follow specific legal guidelines. Failing to follow those guidelines can be considered a legal error. Also, where a judge is given wide discretion on this issue, he or she may have overstepped reasonable boundaries, thus resulting in an unreasonable sentence for the crime.
Winning Your Appeal
What does it mean to win your appeal? It can mean that the appellate court has ruled in your favor in reversing the trial court’s decision. It then can “remand” your case back to the lower court. This may lead to a new trial or a new sentencing hearing. In some cases, the prosecutor may appeal the appellate court’s decision to an even higher court, such as the California Supreme Court. In other cases, the prosecutor may not wish to move forward with a new trial and may offer you a plea deal that is more favorable than the original trial court’s decision. What happens after you win your appeal will be based on the individual circumstances involved.
Appeals are a complicated and detailed process that require intensive legal knowledge. They also require an ability to write compelling written arguments as well as make convincing oral arguments before the appellate court. To give you the best opportunity for a favorable result in your appeal, we urge you to contact Appel & Morse. Our firm has extensive experience in handling all criminal defense matters, including those involving appeals.