In general, the institutional bias in the U.S. court system is to keep the trial court’s rulings in a matter. That doesn’t mean an appellate court won’t overturn a trial court – it happens all the time. What it does mean is that in criminal defense matters, when the defendant is not happy with the outcome at trial, the onus is on him or her to show that an error was made in the trial or decision.
It’s not typically enough to prove that any type of error occurred during the trial. Appeals courts don’t usually overturn decisions based on the fact that harmless errors occurred – these area errors that are highly unlikely to have caused an impact on the outcome of a trial. Instead, you have to demonstrate that a substantial error – one that altered the course of the trial in some way – occurred.
Criminal appeals can usually be divided into one of four major categories. First, there are those times when the lower court actually made a substantial error in law. This might occur in how the court handled the case or in the final decision or sentencing.
Second, there are times when a trial court might be shown to have abused its discretion. These might be harder to prove than a simple error of law because you’ll have to rely on the appellate court agreeing with the sentiment that discretion was abused and that a ruling was errant.
Third, you might be able to show that the evidence in the case did not support the verdict. You cannot produce new evidence on appeal, but you can make an argument that evidence was not weighty enough or was misinterpreted. Finally, you might be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel, which is a right afforded by the 6th Amendment.
If you are facing a criminal verdict you aren’t happy with, consider talking with a lawyer about your appeal options. You might only get one chance at appeal, so it’s important to ensure all the details are covered.
Source: FindLaw, “The Basis for a Criminal Appeal,” accessed Oct. 21, 2016