The fallibility of criminal trials and the right to appeal

There are few, if any, more powerful entities in American society and government than the criminal justice system. It has the power to deprive people of their freedom, their assets, and in some cases, even their lives. With this tremendous power over people’s lives, it is easy to understand the importance of due process and other constitutional rights that protect us.

Although our constitutional protections from are a powerful shield against the power of federal prosecutors, our criminal justice system is far from perfect. Prosecutorial misconduct, misleading evidence and other factors can all lead to the conviction of innocent individuals. Fortunately we also have a process which allows us to appeal criminal convictions.

A vigorous defense at the trial level is vitally important when facing criminal charges. But when a person has been convicted, a new strategy and team is sometimes more effective. There are many factors that can support a successful appeal, including improper pretrial rulings, a misapplication of the controlling statutes and case law, and various violations of the suspect’s constitutional rights.

In recent years, we have seen many individuals convicted of serious crimes in state and federal trial courts only to later be exonerated on appeal and released due to DNA evidence. It is troubling to consider that without the technological advances that allow for this type of evidence, many of those exonerated would have spent many more years deprived of their freedom. This example demonstrates the fallibility of criminal trial courts and underscores the importance of the appeals process.

Source: MPR News, “Is the criminal justice system as good as you think it is?” John Radsan, May 10, 2012