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What is the process for appealing criminal cases?

When a defendant receives a guilty verdict, he or she can appeal the decision. The government does not have the same right of appeal; it cannot appeal a not guilty verdict. Both the defendant and the prosecution can, however, appeal a specific sentence.

Two types of appeals exist: those based on written arguments, or briefs, and those that include oral arguments in a courtroom. If a case is selected as an oral arguments case, then both sides are allowed to present arguments for or against and appeal. Those arguments are presented to a judge panel and are structured in nature and short.

In some cases, a defendant only gets around 15 minutes to have his or her case made, making it essential that someone is knowledgeable about appeals and able to present essential facts in a persuasive and concise manner. In many cases, appeal decisions at the federal appellate court level or the highest state court are final, making it even more important to present a strong case for overturning a guilty verdict or changing a sentence.

Defendants do have the right to file a writ of certiorari. The writ requests a review by the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court does not grant all such requests, however. In fact, the Supreme Court is only really likely to hear cases where two federal court decisions are at odds or where serious legal principles are in question. In a very small number of cases, the Supreme Court is required to hear appeals under the law.

Seeking a post-conviction hearing or appeal is a serious step in the criminal defense process. Understanding how to prepare for the hearing and presenting the best possible case are essential to protecting your future.

Source: United States Courts, "Appeals," accessed Sep. 18, 2015

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