If you have been convicted of a crime in a state court, it doesn’t automatically mean you are at the mercy of the conviction or the sentence imposed. The law affords you the right to appeal your case to a higher court for review, especially if you feel your conviction was due to legal error, or if you were denied due process in any way.
The State Court Appeals Process
Just as the federal judicial system has a hierarchy of courts (district courts, courts of appeal and the Supreme Court), each state has its own court structure and procedures for appeals. While the specifics may differ from state to state, the principles of appeal are usually the same. If convicted in state court, a defendant may appeal the verdict to a higher court to review the case. The attorney usually presents a written brief, and occasionally appears to give a short oral argument detailing the reasons for the appeal. The appeals court does not re-try cases or consider new evidence; it only reviews the case and the verdict to ensure the law was properly followed.
If the state court of appeals finds legal errors which likely affected the outcome of the trial, it may rule to overturn the verdict, and/or to remand the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings based on its findings. If the appeals court affirms the original ruling, many states also have their own supreme courts that can hear and review cases at their discretion. In certain cases, a defendant can even appeal a state supreme court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Whether guilty or innocent, a person can’t be legally incarcerated in this country without being given due process and a fair trial. A petition of habeas corpus is not a challenge to the verdict, but instead challenges the validity of the defendant’s imprisonment, claiming that he/she was denied due process in the course of the trial. This appeal is usually filed after other direct appeals have run their course, and can obviously only be submitted if the defendant is in custody—but if effective, it can result in a reduced or vacated sentence.
If you have served a portion of your sentence and may be eligible for parole, your defense attorney can help you effectively present your case to the parole board, and can file appropriate appeals if your parole is denied.
Motion for a New Trial
This is commonly one of the first appeals to be filed after a conviction occurs. In effect, this petition claims that legal errors or a miscarriage of justice occurred during the trial, or that there is new evidence that could exonerate the defendant, and therefore a mistrial should be declared. This appeal sometimes results in a new trial with a fresh jury, and another opportunity to acquit you of the charges. Even if the motion is denied, it is an effective to introduce new evidence to the court record post-trial, and can strengthen your case for further appeals.