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What is a Criminal Appeal?

A criminal appeal is the process of reviewing the actions and decisions of a court case; it is not an actual retrial. The defendant, now called an appellant, in a criminal proceeding has a chance to apply for an appeal after conviction and sentencing is over. In most states, a guilty verdict requires the appellant to seek permission for the appeal. However, a conviction from a criminal trial comes with the explicit right to appeal. The process can be confusing and difficult, a skilled attorney or law firm is essential to navigate the murky waters of the appellate court scene and emerge exonerated.


The Criminal Appeal Process


The easiest way to envision how an appeal works is to think in terms of a basketball game replay, but instead of studying what the players did, you’re watching the referees and coaches for mistakes. If the referees make a lot of bad calls or miss fouls, the outcome of the game can be completely different. Judges disregard mistakes that they feel had no affect on the previous courts decisions. Also, simple errors on the part of the defense, as long as they were not game-changing in any way, are deemed irrelevant to an appeal case. These can be thought of as a coach calling one bad play; it probably won’t change the outcome. So, essentially, the court looks only at the replay and bases its judgment on the actions or inactions of the officials and the coaches and how they played the game.


Common Terms Heard In An Appeal Case


These rights are embodied in the Due Process Clauses held within the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.


  • Procedural Due Process – This term has to do with the arrest and trial process and anything that deprives an individual of their life, their freedom or their property. It requires that the defendant is provided competent counsel, sufficient time to prepare defense, and an unbiased judge and jury.
  • Substantive Due Process – This is the act of limiting the government’s power and prohibiting the infringement on the defendant’s personal rights as a citizen.
  • Fundamental Error – This is an error found by an appellate court that they deem had an extreme effect on the outcome of the original case.
  • Harmless Error – As the name suggests, the appellate court concludes that this type of error had no effect on the outcome and is thus unremarkable in the appeal.

A Successful Appeal


After winning an appeal, it’s still not over. The prosecutor now has a chance to file their own appeal with a higher court. Sometimes, deals are made in exchange for “time served” and guilty verdicts. The appellant has the choice to take any deal or risk another appeal hearing.


An Unsuccessful Appeal


After losing an appeal, the appellant has the chance to carry the case further by going to the State Supreme Court. This can be continued all the way up the ladder into the Federal system. Each appeal after the first requires permission from the next court along the line.


Criminal appeals are a difficult and long process filled with extremely complicated procedures and guidelines. However, it does provide the defendant with a check and balance on a decision that will likely change their lives forever.

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