If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime and the direct appeals process has not produced results, you may still have some options for post-conviction relief. An experienced defense attorney may be able to file one or more collateral appeals on your behalf to challenge the legality of your conviction and/or imprisonment.
Collateral Appeals versus Direct Appeals
What is the difference between a direct appeal and a collateral appeal? By law, anyone convicted of a crime has the legal right to appeal the case to the higher courts for review. This is direct appeal, and it is one of the most common ways to obtain post-conviction relief—all the way from modified sentences to overturned convictions. Collateral appeals are post-trial motions asking the courts to revisit elements of your case, citing instances in which you were denied due process; these are essentially granted at the discretion of the courts. Think of a direct appeal as your first line of defense in appealing the court’s decision, and collateral appeals as a contingency plan if the direct appeal is unsuccessful.
To elaborate, here are a few more specific differences between direct appeals and collateral appeals:
- Direct appeals are heard by the appellate courts; collateral appeals are motions filed with the court that tried your case.
- Direct appeals are “as of right” appeals, meaning you have the legal right to appeal, and the judges must review it; collateral appeals are entertained at the court’s discretion.
- Direct appeals cite errors or negligence in your case that may have caused wrongful conviction; collateral appeals challenge the legality of the conviction itself, and/or your subsequent imprisonment.
Common Types of Collateral Appeals
There are a number of different post-trial motions that may classify as collateral appeals, and your attorney will have the best advice on which strategy is most appropriate to your case. That said, let’s look at two of the most common types of collateral appeals:
- Habeas Corpus. A petition for habeas corpus can only be filed if you are currently incarcerated, and is typically used only after other appeals have run their course. The law states that the government cannot hold a citizen without due process or showing just cause; habeas corpus makes the claim that your conviction and imprisonment violates this constitutional right in some way.
- Motion for a New Trial. This post-trial motion is most commonly used as a way of rendering your first trial invalid, either on the claim that too many errors occurred in your original trial to validate your conviction, or that new evidence has been discovered that might have otherwise exonerated you.
Our Experience with Collateral Appeals
Because collateral appeals are often considered a last resort in procuring post-trial relief, it’s essential that you have an experienced defense attorney in your corner who understands the ramifications of your case and can recommend the strategy most likely to produce positive results. The attorneys of the Federal Criminal Law Center have extensive experience in post-trial negotiations and appeals, both at the state and federal levels, with an excellent track record in direct and collateral appeals.