Sometimes judges make mistakes. They are not perfect. This is why we have Courts of Appeal.
Mistakes by trial court judges sometimes at trials lead to wrongful convictions. When this happens, you can appeal your case in the appellate court and challenge any possible legal errors made during the trial or sentencing. This court ensures that the trial court applied the law correctly. An appeal is not a retrial or new trial of the case, and it’s not used to decide whether a defendant is innocent or guilty.
In an appeal, you’re asking a higher court to review the conviction and sentence to determine whether either resulted from the trial judge’s mistake(s).
The Appeals Process
The appeals process begins with filing a Notice of Appeal. The trial transcript and court records form the Record on Appeal. An appeal differs from post-conviction relief in that this court doesn’t look at any new evidence – it only looks at the record of the proceedings in the lower court.
Both sides of the appeal then file written briefs seeking to challenge or uphold the conviction or sentence. When deciding on an appeal, the federal courts of appeals often decide on cases only from the briefs. They might also hear oral arguments as well. Convictions in federal criminal cases are usually not reversed if they don’t have an oral argument. The Opinion is the written decision of the court.
Grounds for Appeal
The appellate court generally will only reverse a trial court for an error of law. The appellate court would have to find that any errors affecting the outcome of the case. When errors would not have changed the verdict, these would be considered harmless errors and the appellate court would let the guilty verdict stand.
In criminal cases, possible grounds for an appeal include legal error, juror misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. This can include:
- improperly admitted or excluded evidence incorrect jury instructions
- lack of sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict
- jury misconduct, such as drug or alcohol abuse during deliberations or trial, or improper communications between jurors and witnesses or counsel
- issues of bias during jury selection
- inadequate representation o prosecution errors
- errors in the pretrial or trial rulings by the judge
Result of an Appeal
If the appeals court affirms the lower court’s judgment, then the case ends unless the losing party appeals to a higher court. If the appeals court dismisses the appeal, the lower court’s decision also still stands.
If the judgment is reversed, the appellate court usually remands the case, which means its sends the case back to a lower court and orders the trial court to take further action. It might order any of the following:
- 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
You can’t complain on Appeal that the Trial Judge got it wrong unless you tried to get him to get it right.
In an Appeal, someone who lost at trial must persuade a higher court that the trial judge made one or more serious mistakes during the trial, and that the mistake(s) are the reason for the incorrect verdict. In order to win on Appeal, the person appealing must have tried to persuade the trial judge
not to make the mistake complained of on Appeal.
More simply put, one cannot be heard to complain on Appeal that the trial judge got it wrong, unless at trial one tried to get the trial judge to get it right.
As a young lawyer, I once defended a young black man accused of robbing two Haitian fruit pickers. At trial, the prosecutor attempted to excuse a black juror who was also a citrus worker. I objected, and the trial judge found a substantial likelihood that the prosecutor’s challenge was
racially motivated. This put the burden on that prosecutor to convince the judge that he had a racially neutral reason to strike that juror.
The prosecutor offered as its reason for the challenge that the juror, as a black fruit picker, might feel animosity toward the victims, who were Haitian fruit pickers, because the two groups competed for jobs. The trial court accepted the reasons as being racially neutral and allowed the challenge.
However, the judge’s decision should not have been based upon that answer alone. As I pointed out, there was no evidence, no statement made by the prospective juror, that he had any animosity against Haitian fruit pickers. The judge was supposed to determine whether any evidence supported the prosecutor’s stated reason, or whether his stated reason was a mere pretext for a racially motivated challenge.
I pointed out to the judge that no evidence supported the prosecutor’s claim. The prosecutor replied that the law doesn’t require such proof.
In the words of the Fourth District Court of Appeals, “yes, the law does require it.”
Conviction reversed. New Trial granted.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kessler – Real Results Winning Appeals
The links below are pdf documents showing decisions on appeals Mr. Kessler has won, except for Moore v. State of FL. On Moore, Mr. Kessler only initiated the appeal process which was later taken over by the Public Defenders office.
- Carter v. State
- Hollander v. State
- Lonergan v. DHSMV
- Lonergan v. DHSMV decision on motion for rehearing
- State v. Lonergan
- Timothy Moore v. State
If you’ve been wrongly convicted, you need experienced appellate representation. Michael Kessler and The Kessler Law Firm can help you get the second chance you deserve.