After you have been convicted of a crime, there’s still a lot that can happen to change the overall outcome of your case. Through strategic appeals, motions and other strategies, a defense attorney with skill in post-conviction procedures can work to have your sentence reduced, and in some cases even have your conviction overturned.
What Happens Post-Conviction?
Most post-conviction proceedings occur between the time you are convicted of a crime and the time when you begin fulfilling your sentence—although as we will see, other post-conviction remedies may occur while you are serving your sentence. This is the time during which your attorney will identify any aspects of the case that violated your rights under the law—from errors in court proceedings to unlawful conviction—and will file appropriate appeals, petitions and motions to exonerate you or to minimize your penalties. With a lawyer who is particularly skilled in this area, these strategies can be remarkably effective.
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the appeals process, which is a bit different between the federal and state levels, as well as from state to state. If applicable, your attorney will recommend appealing your case to the higher courts, citing specific errors or other reasons why your conviction should be modified or overturned, or why you need a new trial. Appeals must usually be filed soon after conviction occurs.
Post-conviction relief is a term that loosely describes efforts made alongside the appeals process to modify your penalty or overturn your conviction—for example, filing a motion for a new trial, a motion to vacate or correct the sentence, or a petition of habeas corpus. Your attorney may seek post-conviction relief for a number reasons, even after your trial and sentencing have occurred, and even if you’re currently serving your sentence. For example:
- If new evidence has been discovered that might have affected the outcome of your trial
- If the court did not have lawful jurisdiction to decide the case
- If the sentence or conviction itself violates federal or state constitutional law
- If the severity of the sentence exceeds the maximum that the law allows
- If the law has changed to the point that your sentenced should be lessened (or if what you did is no longer considered a crime)
- If you are being imprisoned illegally (the basis behind habeas corpus)
- If any other error or negligence negatively affected the outcome of the case
Generally speaking, while appeals are made to the higher courts, post-conviction relief motions are made directly to the trial court, although petitions for habeas corpus can also be made at the federal level to challenge a state court conviction.
In the majority of federal cases, a direct appeal is the most common and most effective type of post-conviction strategy. If the appellate court agrees with your attorney’s claims of errors or negligence during the trial, the judges may either vacate the conviction and/or sentence, or remand the case back to district court for corrections, and may sometimes recommend a new trial. Petitions for habeas corpus and motions for a new trial are also common post-conviction strategies. Even after you begin serving a sentence, your attorney can petition for post-conviction relief in many situations—for example, if changes in law or policy can have a retroactive effect on your sentence term, or if newly discovered evidence could vindicate you.
Every state has its own appeals and post-conviction process, and the rules and procedures are a little different for each one. State law dictates the appeals process and the circumstances under which a convicted defendant may petition the courts for post-conviction relief. In the state of Georgia, appeals for state court convictions are made to the Georgia Court of Appeals (except in murder cases, which are appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court). Georgia law also provides for habeas corpus protection, as well as petitioning the court to modify a sentence. Your attorney can offer you guidance as to which post-conviction strategies offer the best chance for a positive outcome.
Our Experience with Post-Conviction Procedures
An experienced attorney who knows the post-conviction process can definitely make a difference in the overall outcome of your case. The attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center have an outstanding track record in employing successful post-trial strategies, resulting in reduced or vacated sentences for many of their clients.