Not every criminal case ends with justice being served. Sometimes defendants are wrongfully convicted of a crime. When this happens, the judicial system allows for an appeal process. Individuals wrongfully convicted of a crime can appeal the decision by asking a higher court to review the case for legal errors. The appellant argues that legal mistakes were made that affected the jury’s decision and asks for the case to be dismissed, or for the appellant to be retried or resentenced.
Appeal Conviction or Sentence
Sometimes the purpose of the appeal is to ask for the conviction to be overturned, and other appeals ask for the appellant to be retried or resentenced. An appeal isn’t the time to present new evidence, and it is not a retrial. Rather the basis of the appeal must be a reversible error in the application of the law. In some cases, the error will be in the conviction and in other cases the error will be in the sentencing. A conviction can be correct while the given sentence is without the bounds of law. When that happens, the appeal is only about the sentence.
Court Review of Appeal
The higher court (aka appellate court) reviews the case by looking at the record of the case. Each case has a record that includes the proceedings, transcripts and admitted evidence. Both sides of the appeal will also write briefs that explain their position as to why the decision should be overturned or upheld. After reviewing the record and briefs, and possibly hearing oral arguments, the court makes a decision about the appeal.
When to Appeal
Not every person convicted of a crime can appeal the decision. There must have been an error of law for the case to be appealed. Not liking the verdict is not grounds for appeal. If constitutional rights are violated, the defendant can sue to enforce his/her rights and revisit the original case.
Amount of Time for Appeals
An appeal may take several months, depending on circumstances of the case and court. Usually a defendant will need to let the court know about intent to appeal soon after the original case is decided.
Filing a Notice of Appeal
Filing a notice of appeal is the first step in the appeals process. The notice of appeal must be filed in the correct time period, which is determined by the court where the action occurred. State and federal courts have different filing terms. This is typically 30 days for state courts and 60 days for federal courts, but may differ depending on the jurisdiction.
After the notice of appeal is filed, prescribed deadlines are followed based on the time the noticed was filed. Then the petitioner files a brief explaining the grievous errors that were made by the lower court. The respondent then writes a brief in response that details why the ruling should be upheld. Once the court has both briefs and the record from the lower court, it will review the information and determine two things:
- whether there were errors made
- whether the errors were substantial
The appellate court may choose to have oral arguments. If that is the case, both sides will have time to present their argument and the judge may ask questions.
Basis for Appeal
In order for there to be a basis for appeal, a substantial error must have been made. There are two basic grounds for appeal.
- plain error―the lower court made a serious error of law
- the weight of the evidence doesn’t support the verdict
- Harmless Errors
- Some errors are considered harmless errors. The appellate court may find that errors were made, but deem those errors as harmless. If the errors are minor and not considered sufficient to cause harm to the case, then the judgement will not be overturned and a new trial will not be granted.
After reviewing the record, reading briefs and hearing any oral arguments, the court will then make a ruling about the decision. There are several possible outcomes of the ruling:
- affirm the decision
- order a new trial
- modify the ruling in some way
- consider new facts or evidence (unlikely)
- throw out the case entirely (rare)
Number of Possible Appeals
One appeal to each higher court is allowed. The total number will be determined by how many higher courts are in your area. Typically it will go first to the state appellate court, then to the state supreme court. Depending on the issue, it could then go to the federal appellate court and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. The number of possible appeals also depends on if there are grounds for further appeal. Each case is different.
Writs vs. Appeals
Writs differ from appeals because an appeal must wait for the final judgement in a case. On the other hand, writs are an order to the lower court to act in a certain way. They are very rare, but can be given before a judgement occurs. These are for rare instances when justice cannot be found another way.
Habeas Corpus is a latin term which means to produce the body. A writ of habeas corpus is a mandate ordering that an inmate be brought to court to determine whether he/she is lawfully imprisoned or should be released. This prevents the government from throwing a person in jail indefinitely without bringing charges. The purpose of habeas corpus is to provide a legal way for prisoners to protest their imprisonment while also providing a check on the government.
Chicago Criminal Appeals Attorney
If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime or serious errors were made during your trial, you have the right to appeal your case. You will need an attorney familiar with the appeals process. Dennis F. Dwyer is an experienced attorney with the ability to handle appeals and post-conviction matters, including:
- Illinois state appeals
- Federal appeals
- Illinois post-conviction
- Habeas Corpus
Secure the best representation possible for your criminal appeal by contacting Dennis F. Dwyer today!