In California, being convicted of any crime can be life-altering. It will undoubtedly add pressure to your life, affect your relationship with loved ones and even the ability to get a job. If you’re convicted, you may be required to pay substantive fines, serve years in the state prison or jail among other harsh consequences. Just because you were found guilty does not necessarily mean that you have lost your freedom and rights. You still have the constitutional right to file an appeal to overturn your conviction as well as the right to consult with an attorney. An appeal is a second chance to fight for your freedom and clear your name. You can get your life back with the guidance of a criminal appeal lawyer at Pasadena Criminal Attorney. Call us anytime 24/7 at 626-689-2277 for a free, confidential consultation with an expert criminal appeal lawyer.
Common Grounds for an Appeal
Criminal law trial in California bears little resemblance to criminal law appeals, and it can be easy to be confused about the two. In an appeal, the main concern of the appellate court is to find out if the process used to bring about a judgement was legal and fair. In a trial, on the other hand, the main focus is on the evidence provided by the defendant and the prosecution and whether it's strong enough to convince the judge or jury. In an appeal, the court will not reevaluate the evidence. This implies that the appellate court will not consider looking at the jury’s decision to believe that a witness was telling the truth no matter how much it seemed like a lie. What the court will be concerned about is finding out if the criminal trial process was unfair to the defense and if so, determine whether the cause of that was a legal error or misconduct.
What is a Criminal Appeal?
An appeal is essentially a request made to a higher court such as Federal Circuit Court of Appeals or California Supreme Court, to review the decision made by a lower court in a trial. An appeal can be filed if the defendant feels that the outcome of the trial was affected by a mistake or what can be referred to as a “legal error”. A legal error can be made by jurors, judges, and attorneys and this is why the ruling made by the court is not inevitably final. These legal errors vary and can a number of things, including:
The job of your criminal defense attorney is to represent you legal interests. However, a criminal prosecutor is required to represent the People of the State of California. Prosecutors are allowed to prosecute their cases aggressively, seek justice in every case, and convict at all costs. Examples of prosecutorial misconduct include illegally vouching for witnesses, commenting on items that were not admitted into evidence, withholding “exculpatory” evidence, expressing a personal conduct about the defendant’s guilt, referencing evidence that is inadmissible, among others.
A jury is required to follow and obey the judge’s instructions. Failing to do this is called juror misconduct. Some examples of juror misconduct include considering evidence from outside sources, speaking to others about the case, conducting unauthorized research, withholding information, and refusing to deliberate.
The trial judge can take an improper action or make an erroneous decision. Examples include improper jury instructions, showing bias in favor of the prosecution, refusal to exclude improper prosecution evidence, and improper denial of a motion to suppress evidence following illegal an illegal search or seizure.
Plain error and harmless error
A plain error is an error whose consequences are so severe and require an automatic reversal of a conviction no matter how strong the evidence produced by the prosecution against the accused was. Such errors include denial of the right to legal counsel, denial of the right to a public trial, lack of an impartial trial judge, improperly excluding jurors based on race or gender, and denial of the right to self-representation at trial.
Harmless error is not automatically reversed. However, it holds that a misconduct or an error occurred and diminished the chances of the defense receiving results that would have been better. In this case, it dictates who has the burden of proof.
Criminal Appeals Process in California (Penal Code 1237)
The process of criminal appeal in California generally can be divided into:
- Filing and serving the Notice of Appeal
- Ordering and obtaining the record, briefing, and oral argument
- The Court’s decision
This process applies to all conviction cases no matter how minor or serious the crime was.
Filing and Serving the Notice of Appeal
Once you retain a California criminal appeals attorney, he/she should start preparing for the case immediately. The first step in appealing your misdemeanor, felony, or infraction criminal conviction is filing the ‘Notice of Appeal” in a trial court. In this case, the courthouse will be the one in which you were sentenced. However, it’s crucial to know that a Notice of Appeal must never be filed with the Appellate Court. The timelines and deadlines for filing a California appeal are crucial and should be complied with strictly.
If your case is a felony, you must file the Notice of Appeal on or before the sixtieth (60th) day after your sentencing. Conversely, if your case is a misdemeanor or infraction, you must file the Notice of appeal on or before the thirtieth (30th) day after you sentencing. Filing or serving the Notice of appeal at a later day than the stipulated period will result in the Appellate Court rejecting your case even without looking at its merits. California Penal Code 1237.5 requires those whose cases involve a felony conviction to file a sworn statement known as an application for a Certificate of Probable Cause. This application must be done alongside the Notice of Appeal. However, application for a Certificate of Probable Cause applies in certain appeals from a conviction where:
- You plead guilty, you admitted to a felony violation, or no contest to a felony probation violation.
- Your appeal is founded on an argument that your no contest, your plea of guilty or admission that you violated a felony probation was not valid in some way or was not voluntary.
Once you file the Notice of Appeal and Certificate of Probable Cause, your document will be reviewed by the judge who took your plea of guilty or no contest, and, accept or reject you appeal. You can also lose your ability to appeal your conviction if the two documents are not filled out correctly or completely. If your attorney does not have extensive knowledge in these rules, your success and even the survival of your appeal will surely be jeopardized.
Ordering and Obtaining the Record, Briefing, and Oral Argument
This is the step where the majority of the work is done and where the skills of your appellate attorney come into play. At this step also, your attorney must conduct a comprehensive research on all the relevant laws and cases required to present a case properly. It’s also at this juncture that the oral advocacy and writing skills are put to the test.
Once your Notice of Appeal is filed, the trial court’s clerk will begin to prepare the Record on Appeal. This is a document that consists of reporter’s transcript and clerk’s transcript. The reporter’s transcript is a record containing all the word that were spoken by the attorneys, witnesses, and judge during the trial. The clerk’s transcript contains copies of all the legal documents that were filed in your case. Your attorney will then review all the documents and discover any possible legal errors that were made during the trial. Examples of the documents include (but not limited to):
- The list of the offenses you were charged with
- Written arguments submitted by your criminal defense attorney and the District Attorney
- Written jury instructions
- Written sentencing information
- Transcripts of the preliminary hearing
These transcripts can be made up of thousands of pages and therefore, your appellate attorney will require a tremendous amount of time to ensure that all the documents are read carefully. Reviewing the record on appeal enables the criminal appeal attorney to prepare the opening brief, which is critical.
- The opening brief
The appellant’s opening brief will summarize what happened in your case. It is an opportunity to explain why the prosecutor, the jury, your trial attorney, and/or the judge committed legal errors. It’s also a chance to provide legal arguments as to why you believe your sentence or conviction should be reversed. Also, your attorney will ask the court for the exact type of relief you’re seeking. That is to either:
- receive a different, less severe sentence,
- be granted a new trial, or
- have your conviction overturned.
Your California criminal appeals attorney should be able to give clear, concise, and persuasive arguments for the appellate judges to give your case the consideration it deserves. All the appellate matters in California are handled by the attorney general. This implies that your lawyer’s opening brief will be reviewed by the attorney general, who will then file a Reply Brief, also known as the Respondent’s Brief.
- Oral Argument
The Court of Appeals will then inform the attorney general and your appeals attorney that they are ready to hear oral arguments. This will then set a scenario where three justices of the court of appeal will listen to the two lawyers involved in your case argue. The court will set the argument several weeks in advance. Similarly, your case is at risk if the appeals attorney you retain does not have any experience in these types of oral presentation. Also, the court doesn’t appreciate attorneys who cannot present extensive arguments from those presented in their briefs. You could be having a wining appeal but if your criminal appeals lawyer cannot present the facts properly, your case will be sabotaged.
The Court’s Decision
The court will take time to decide on your case. The three judges will discuss the case in private at a later date, after which they will issue a written decision. This will explain why the reasons why the court decided as they did. In order for one party to be considered as the winner, they must receive the votes of at least two of the three judges. In such cases, it is not uncommon for all three judges not to agree. For instance, two of them may make a decision in a certain way, and the third one will make a different decision. In such a scenario, there will be different decisions; the majority and the dissent. The decision will either affirm or reverse your conviction. If you are favored by the court’s decision, you will receive the type of relief that you are seeking. On the other hand, your conviction will be affirmed if the court’s decision is not favorable. If the Court of Appeals affirms your conviction, it is imperative to speak to your criminal appeals lawyer in order to know the other legal option that you’ll have at that time. Affirmation does not necessarily mean that your fighting chances are done with. Your appellate attorney can ask the Court of Appeal to reconsider by filing a Petition for Rehearing. Alternatively, your lawyer can ask the California Supreme Court to review your case, if you believe that the Court of Appeal made an erroneous ruling.
Turn to Pasadena Criminal Attorney for Help
Judges can be wrong. Innocent defendants can be convicted for a crime they never committed. Defendants can receive unfair sentences. These scenarios are the result of mistakes made during your defense process. The legal system in California can be menacing and many defendants accept their sentences, which translates to enduring a lifetime of injustice. Luckily, your verdict can be reversed through a criminal appeal. A skilled California appeal attorney can uncover the probable causes for your inappropriate sentence. However, proving your innocence after you’ve been wrongly convicted of a crime can be difficult. As you can see, the process of appealing your criminal conviction can be complex. Every step of the way is full of discouraging impediments. For this reason, contacting and experienced and talented California appeals attorney will give you the best possible chance at a positive outcome. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we have handled many types of appeal in California, and if you're in need of help in appeals, we invite you to contact us anytime 24/7 at 626-689-2277 for a free, confidential consultation. Don’t lose you freedom when you can fight for it.