What Are the Grounds for Appeal in Criminal Cases?

grounds for appeal in criminal cases

When you find yourself on the wrong side of a criminal conviction, it’s natural to feel unsure what to do next.

But remember – a conviction isn’t always the end of the road. In most cases, you have the right to appeal the decision and seek a more favorable outcome.

Understanding the grounds for appeal in criminal cases can help determine whether you have a strong case for challenging your conviction.

Right to Appeal in Criminal Cases

Some people mistakenly think the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to appeal in criminal cases.

However, the Supreme Court cleared this up in MCKANE v. DURSTON, ruling that the legislature creates the right to appeal a criminal conviction through statutes.

A Texas defendant in any criminal action has the right of appeal under Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 44.02, meaning you can ask a higher court to review the decision and determine whether any legal errors occurred during your trial after the state convicts you of a crime.

In some cases, such as those involving the death penalty, you may have an automatic right to appeal (see sec 2h).

However, it’s important to note that the right to appeal isn’t unlimited, and you must follow certain restrictions and deadlines.

Common Grounds for Appeal in Criminal Cases

There are several procedural grounds for appeal in criminal cases.

1. Legal Errors Made by the Trial Court

One of the most common grounds for appeal is when the trial court made errors-of-fact or errors-of-law when hearing a criminal case.

These mistakes can include:

  • Misapplication of the law: The judge applied the wrong legal standard or misinterpreted the law.
  • Improper admission or exclusion of evidence: The court allowed evidence that it should have excluded or excluded evidence that it should have admitted.
  • Insufficient evidence to support the verdict: The prosecution failed to present enough evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Another common ground for appeal is malpractice from the defense counsel. This breach of duty means that your attorney failed to provide you with adequate representation during your trial.

Examples of ineffective assistance include:

  • Failure to investigate or present evidence: Your criminal defense attorney failed to reasonably discover the facts in your case or present key evidence in your defense.
  • Inadequate representation during trial: Your legal counsel made serious procedural errors during your trial, such as failing to object to improper evidence or cross-examine witnesses effectively.
  • Failure to object to legal errors: Your lawyer failed to object to mistakes made by the prosecutor.

3. Juror Misconduct

Juror misconduct is another ground for appeal in criminal cases.

Wrongdoings may include:

  • Bias or prejudice: A juror exhibited bias or prejudice against you during your trial.
  • Exposure to outside influences: A fact finder was exposed to outside influences, such as media coverage of your case or conversations with non-jurors.
  • Failure to follow court instructions: A juror failed to follow the court’s instructions, such as considering excluded evidence or disregarding the presumption of innocence.

4. Prosecutorial Misconduct

Prosecutorial misconduct is another common ground for appeal in criminal cases.

  • Withholding exculpatory evidence: The prosecution withheld evidence that could have helped your case.
  • Improper arguments or questioning: The state made improper arguments or asked improper questions during your trial.
  • Violation of your constitutional rights: The prosecution violated your constitutional rights, such as your right to remain silent or your right to a speedy trial.

Preserving Issues for Appeal in Criminal Cases

You must also take steps to preserve matters for review by a higher court when you believe you have grounds for appeal in your criminal case.

This rule means formally objecting to legal errors or misconduct during your trial and filing post-trial motions to bring those issues to the court’s attention.

It’s likewise important to develop a strong record for appeal by including relevant evidence and arguments from the trial transcript in your post-trial motions.

The Criminal Appeals Process in Federal and State Courts

When convicted of a crime, you have the legal right to file an appeal challenging that conviction. However, the appeals process differs between the federal and state court systems. Understanding these differences is crucial if exercising your appellate rights.

State Criminal Appeals

The process typically follows these steps:

  1. Cases are initially tried in trial courts like District or County Courts
  2. If convicted, you can appeal to the state’s intermediate appellate court (Court of Appeals or Supreme Court Appellate Division)
    • This is an appeal “by right” that must be considered
  3. If appeal is rejected at that level, you may seek discretionary review from the state’s highest court (often the Supreme Court)
    • With some exceptions like death penalty cases, the highest court chooses which appeals to hear

Federal Criminal Appeals

The federal judicial system follows a similar three-tier structure:

  1. Trial occurs in U.S. District Courts
  2. Appeal of conviction is filed in the overseeing Circuit Court of Appeals
    • For example, a Texas case would go to the 5th Circuit Court
    • This is an appeal “by right”
  3. Beyond the Circuit Court, discretionary review can be sought from U.S. Supreme Court
    • Supreme Court typically only takes cases to resolve Circuit splits or nationally important issues

No matter state or federal, the appeals process is complex with strict requirements. Consulting an experienced criminal appeals attorney is vital to protect your rights and effectively argue your case.

Federal Habeas Corpus Review

In addition to the standard appeals process, there is a separate avenue for challenging a state court conviction in the federal system. This is known as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

A habeas corpus petition is essentially a request for a federal court to review the constitutionality of a state court proceeding that resulted in the petitioner’s incarceration.

However, before seeking federal habeas relief, the petitioner must first exhaust the normal appeals process within the state court system.

If a federal court finds that the state court proceeding violated the petitioner’s constitutional rights, it may grant the writ of habeas corpus and order the petitioner’s release from custody or a new trial.

Appellate Courts in Texas

Depending on the specific issues involved, several appellate courts in Texas may review your criminal case.

Texas Court of Appeals

This intermediate state appellate court reviews trial court decisions in civil and criminal cases.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The highest court in Texas for criminal cases that reviews decisions from the Texas Court of Appeals and has the state’s final say on criminal law issues.

United States Supreme Court

If your case involves federal constitutional issues, your criminal defense attorney may appeal your conviction to the United States Supreme Court, which has the ultimate authority on questions of federal law.

The Impact of a Successful Criminal Appeal

A favorable appeal outcome can significantly impact your life and your future.

Depending on the specific grounds for appeal and the appellate court’s decision, a successful appeal often results in:

  • Reversal of your conviction and a new trial.
  • Modification of your sentence to a more lenient punishment.
  • Remanding your case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

In some cases, a successful appeal may result in dismissing all charges against you, allowing you to move forward with your life without the burden of a criminal record.

Why Choosing the Right Appellate Attorney Matters

Appealing a criminal conviction in Texas is a specialized practice that requires the skill and experience of an attorney with deep knowledge of the appellant process, rules, and procedures.

Whalen Law Office in Frisco, Texas has rendered successful outcomes in handling appeals for clients throughout the state. We know it’s at stake for people convicted of a crime and fight to write the wrongs made in the trial courts.

Our criminal appellate attorneys encourage you to schedule a consultation with our team to discuss your options and learn more about how we can help.

With our criminal defense law firm on your side, you can feel confident that you have the strongest possible legal team working on your appeal.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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