25 Sep 23

What are the grounds for a criminal appeal?

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Last Updated on: 2nd October 2023, 05:33 pm

What are the Grounds for a Criminal Appeal?

If you’ve been convicted of a crime, you have the right to appeal your case to a higher court. But you can’t file a criminal appeal just because you’re unhappy with the verdict. Your appeal must be based on specific legal grounds.

Procedural Errors

One common basis for a criminal appeal is procedural errors made by the judge or prosecution that violated your right to a fair trial. Examples include:

  • Improper jury selection
  • Allowing inadmissible evidence
  • Restricting the defense from presenting evidence
  • Not properly instructing the jury
  • Bias or misconduct by judge
  • Prosecutorial misconduct

If proper procedures weren’t followed, your conviction could potentially get overturned.

Insufficient Evidence

You may claim there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The appeals court will examine the trial record and could reverse if the evidence doesn’t support the conviction.

Incorrect Application of Law

Another basis for appeal is if the trial judge improperly applied the law or gave incorrect jury instructions on the law. Examples include:

  • Incorrect definition of the charges
  • Allowing an improper defense or not allowing a valid defense
  • Not properly instructing on the burden of proof
  • Misstating the legal standard for weighing evidence

If the law was interpreted or presented wrongly, your conviction may get vacated.

Unreasonable or Excessive Sentence

You can appeal based on an unfair sentence that violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. This includes:

  • Far exceeding sentencing guidelines
  • Failing to consider mitigating factors
  • Imposing a disproportionate sentence compared to the crime

The appeals court may reduce your sentence if it finds clear abuse of discretion.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

If your defense attorney provided incompetent representation, it could violate your Sixth Amendment rights. Ineffectiveness could involve:

  • Failing to investigate adequately
  • Not calling key witnesses
  • Neglecting to file important motions
  • Making critical errors at trial

You must show the lawyer’s deficiencies impacted the verdict.

New Evidence

If significant new evidence arises after conviction, you may request a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Requirements include:

  • Evidence was discovered after trial
  • Evidence could not have been discovered earlier through diligence
  • Evidence is material and not just cumulative
  • Evidence would likely have changed the verdict
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But new evidence appeals are very difficult to win.

Change in Law

If the law changes after your conviction in a way that impacts your case, you may appeal based on the change in law. This includes:

  • A statute being found unconstitutional
  • A new interpretation of a law you were convicted under
  • A law being repealed retroactively

The change in law must be relevant to your case for this appeal ground to apply.

Habeas Corpus

After you’ve exhausted direct appeals, you can file a habeas corpus petition claiming your imprisonment is illegal. Grounds include:

  • Actual innocence
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Ineffective counsel
  • Unconstitutional conviction or sentence

Habeas corpus is a collateral attack on a conviction through a civil proceeding.

Appealing as a Pro Se Litigant

You can file an appeal without an attorney, but it’s extremely difficult. Common pro se challenges include:

  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Fourth Amendment violations
  • Insufficient evidence
  • Abuse of discretion in sentencing

Judges will not advise you, so get help to avoid procedural mistakes.

Meeting the Standard of Review

The appeals court presumes the lower court ruling was valid. To overcome this, you must show:

  • Prejudicial errors in applying the law
  • Judgment was “clearly erroneous” and must be reversed
  • “Clear abuse of discretion” by the trial judge

The appeals court will not simply re-weigh the evidence and make their own decision.

The Bottom Line

A criminal appeal isn’t a re-trial or chance for a different decision. You must demonstrate harmful legal errors that violated your rights. Understanding the grounds for appeal will help focus your arguments effectively.