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Understanding the appeals process in Missouri

Facing criminal charges can create a feeling of helplessness or vulnerability for the person arrested. It can continue right on through a trial, despite skilled legal representation participating, because of the unknown potential outcome. It may be helpful to note, however, that there are laws in place to help defendants exercise their right to a proper defense. One of these protections – appealing a trial conviction – can make a big difference to a defendant's future.

The Missouri Court of Appeals is the appellate court that will consider questions arising from a circuit court proceeding. If a defendant believes a mistake was made in the trial, for example, that created a negative outcome for the defense, he or she may file an appeal of the conviction.

In this process, a record of the circuit court trial is filed with the Court of Appeals for the district in which the original proceeding was held. Missouri is divided into three geographical districts: Eastern, Southern and Western. St. Louis falls in the Eastern District. Along with the record, the Court of Appeals requires a brief be filed by each party. This document presents to the panel of three judges the arguments, past court cases and laws that support the positions put forth in the appeal. These briefs are public record. The judges may choose to have questions answered through oral presentations by the parties. There aren't witnesses or a jury in an appeals hearing, although proceedings are open to the public.

An appeals court forms its decision, known as an opinion, based on the Constitution and applicable laws. The judges in Missouri serve on the Court of Appeals bench based on merit as determined by the Appellate Judicial Commission, through appointment by the governor. They retain their positions at the discretion of state voters.

Cases decided by the Court of Appeals may continue on to the Supreme Court of Missouri. History shows, however, that less than 10 percent of these appeals are transferred to the Supreme Court. For most cases, the Court of Appeals decision is final.

Source: Your Missouri Courts, "Court of Appeals," accessed June 17, 2015

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