Last updated September 09, 2020
A criminal conviction can have a number of serious consequences. You'll often face some kind of punishment, ranging from community service or fines to jail time. A criminal record can also follow you for years and impact what kind of housing or jobs you can get.
That's why if you've been tried and convicted of a crime, you'll usually want to appeal so you can try and get that ruling reversed. Appeals can get you a new trial, a lower sentence, or in rarer cases, can overturn your conviction entirely. You may have several chances at appealing before a final decision, so it can be worthwhile to try and fight the initial conviction.
What is an Appeal?
In a criminal court, an appeal is a request to have another legal power, like another judge or panel of judges, review a case that led to criminal conviction. Essentially, it's a convicted person stating that there was a mistake in their trial and they should not have been convicted, or perhaps that they were given an incorrect sentence.
An appeal is a formal, legal process with specific rules and requirements. An appeal may involve oral arguments before a judge to plead a case, or be solely based off of written arguments. It's not a new trial, it's a new look at the process of a trial that's already happened to look for procedural or other mistakes.
Regardless of which state you're in, or if you've been tried in the federal court, your appeal will go to a higher court in your jurisdiction. Some states have two levels of appellate courts, and others have three. If your first appeal is unsuccessful, you may have the option to appeal again to the highest court of your jurisdiction.
How Do I Get an Appeal?
Except for very rare cases, such as some states' capital punishment sentences, you won't just be given an appeal, you'll have to file for one. Once you file notice for appeal, you'll have a set amount of time to begin requesting records and transcripts related to your case and to put your argument together. These limits will depend on the court and jurisdiction you were tried in, and may be as short as a couple of weeks.
Because appeals are reviews of a trial and not a new trial, you won't usually be able to introduce new evidence or facts to your case. Most likely you will be trying to prove the conviction was based on procedural errors along the way that could have potentially affected the outcome.
How Can I Win My Appeal?
In order to be successful and win your appeal, you'll need to prove there was a significant mistake made in your trial or pre-trial proceedings. A higher court may recognize some errors during an appeal that they decide are inconsequential and conclude that your verdict would have been the same even without those errors.
You'll need to either know the law extremely well, or have an appeals attorney with you, in order to identify and argue substantial procedural errors from your trial.
Not only is a detailed understanding of the law necessary to figure out where there may be holes from your earlier trial, this understanding is also crucial for sticking to the very specific, strict procedural rules of the appellate court. Misstated details on your paperwork, missed deadlines, and other technical errors could eliminate your chance of a successful appeal. The help of a skilled appellate attorney will help you navigate these complexities to build a better case so you have a shot at a new fair trial you deserve.