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Can I Appeal My Sentence?

Judges issue a sentence after a criminal defendant is found guilty. The sentence is the punishment for a criminal offense. If the defendant disagrees with the finding or thinks the sentence was too harsh, they can file an appeal. An appeal can be difficult to win so it is important to make sure you understand how to prepare and argue an appeal for the greatest chance of success.

You have the right to file an appeal but an appeal is not automatic. There may be a limited amount of time to file a notice of appeal or appeal a criminal sentence. If you have questions about an appeal, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help.

When You Can Appeal Your Sentence

In most cases, you can file an appeal if you have grounds to file the criminal appeal and you are not barred by time restrictions. The court may grant an appeal based on good cause. There are several grounds for appeal, including:

  • Abuse of discretion
  • Clerical error
  • Judge made a legal error
  • Jury misconduct
  • Sentencing error
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel

An appeal is a legal process to have a court decision reviewed or reversed because of an error or change in circumstances. Any criminal defendant can file an appeal to have the decision reversed or be resentenced. Generally, a court of appeals will not re-litigate the trial but look at the decision made by the court and determine whether there was an error. The appellate court’s standards of review are generally limited to:

  • Abuse of discretion – if the appeal involves a ruling that is arbitrary or made in plain error
  • Substantial evidence – if the appeal argues that the court’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence
  • De novo – if the appeal involves a question of law or legal interpretation

An error by the judge is not automatically grounds to file an appeal. The error must also have caused substantial harm to the defendant. Prejudicial errors are those that affect the outcome or sentencing.

If the appellate court agrees with the defendant, they may be able to reverse the decision or send it back to the lower court to be retried based on the appellate decision. The court of appeals is generally a final determination of the issue.

The only option after the court of appeals is to file a petition to have the case heard by the Supreme Court, which is generally only granted for important legal issues or where there is a split in the lower courts. Unlike courts of appeal, the highest court for a jurisdiction is typically not required to take up any particular appeal.

Time Limit to File an Appeal

There is a limited amount of time to appeal the trial court’s decision. If you wait too long to file an appeal, it may be too late to challenge the sentence. The deadlines to appeal vary by state. In most states, the deadline is 30 days but some states may provide more time to file an appeal. In federal court, the defendant only has 14 days after the entry of judgment to file a notice of appeal. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer to make sure you file the notice of appeal in time.

Sentencing Errors

Judges may have some discretion when it comes to sentencing. However, most judges are supposed to follow state-issued guidelines to provide fair sentencing based on the defendant’s case. If the judge goes outside the guidelines or makes a mistake in classifying the defendant, the defendant may have grounds to appeal the sentence. After the defendant files a motion for resentencing, the court can deny the motion or grant the motion. If the court grants the motion for resentencing, the judge can:

  • Change the sentence
  • Revoke the sentence
  • Modify the terms of sentencing
  • Remand the case back to court for a new decision

Appeal After a Plea Agreement

In a plea agreement, you will have to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for a deal with the prosecutor. Generally, once you plead guilty, you can’t take it back. However, you can appeal the conviction if the judge did not accept the sentence or there was an error with the agreement. A plea generally requires the defendant to have made the decision knowingly and voluntarily. If the defendant was misled by the prosecutor or forced to accept the plea, they may be able to withdraw the plea. However, there is generally a short period of time to appeal a plea.

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