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Background on Appeals Process
Understanding the appeals process is something that lawyers spent several years of school learning to handle. It is not a process that is built for the ordinary citizen to be able to easily comprehend and combat. Federal Appeals Judges work behind closed doors and their decision process is mostly decided by a simple brief and arguments made by your attorney. The entire process can be understood as attempting to explain why the lower court made an error during the criminal trial. Before moving forward, there are a couple key facts to understand about the criminal appeals process.
This isn’t a second chance at a trial
Media may indicate the appeals go on similar to a trial. This is far from the truth as appeals hearing usually do not hear any additional evidence. All facts that were found during the trial are determined and considered by the judges. Your attorney will write a brief, outlining all the areas in which the lower court erred in their process and judgement. The judges are simply reviewing the lower court trial, and not retrying the defendant altogether. One of the outcomes of an appeal may include sending the case back down to for a retrial, but no new witnesses or testimony are heard at the appellate level.
Preserving an appeal
Defendants may not simply appeal just because they want to challenge the guilty verdict. When making an appeal, a defendant is essentially saying that an error or errors occurred during the trial that unfairly swayed the jury or judge to render a guilty verdict. The process of pointing out these errors are through objections. You have likely heard of some popular objection through movies and television. Their primary purpose is to challenge a testimony or evidence. If an objection is overruled, the attorney may use that objection as grounds for an appeal. This means that if no objections are made at your trial, you have no grounds for an appeal. When writing the brief, the attorney may use one or all of the objections that were submitted to the court. In the brief, it will typically say that the lower court erred when it allowed a certain piece of testimony or evidence into the trial.
Most cases are resolved in the briefs
Oral arguments in front of an appellate court is something that lawyers learn from their early days in law school. It is a process that involves extreme levels of stress and preparation. These oral arguments serve the purpose of framing the brief and making the case for why the ruling should be overturned. As important and traditional as this part of the process has become, most decisions are made after reading the briefs from each party. Appellate judges are highly versed in the law and can make their judgement quickly and effectively after a short reading of the brief. This is why your attorney may take a significant amount of time preparing a brief for your appeal.
Types of outcomes
Once accepted and reviewed, appellate courts will make their new judgement on a case. In some matters, an issues is affirmed by the higher court. This means that the judgement has been upheld. In the opinion that is issued by the court, it may outline certain problems with the lower court trial, but also point out that it didn’t matter towards the overall decision. The lower court’s decision may be reversed. This is the optimal outcome as it erases the previous guilty verdict. The appellate judges may also decide to remand the case. This means the case will go back down to the lower court for a retrial. This is usually because there was a significant error and the jury did not properly receive certain details of the case.