Understanding Criminal Appeal

Appealing a criminal conviction or sentence is a complex legal process involving strict deadlines and specific procedures. This guide provides an overview of criminal appeals, from the typical grounds for appeal to the steps involved to key factors influencing success rates. With a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the appeals system, defendants can make informed decisions when weighing their legal options.

What is a Criminal Appeal?

A criminal appeal is a legal proceeding allowing defendants convicted of a crime to challenge their conviction and/or sentence. An appeal is not a retrial—the appeals court does not hear new evidence or reexamine witnesses. Rather, the appeals court reviews the proceedings in the trial court to determine if any legal errors occurred that violated the defendant’s constitutional rights or compromised the fairness of the verdict.

Key Differences Between a Trial and Appeal:
  • Trial: Focuses on determining facts and evidence to reach a verdict regarding guilt and/or sentencing. Witnesses testify and physical evidence is presented.
  • Appeal: Focuses on identifying and evaluating legal and procedural errors. Mostly handled through written legal briefs rather than witness testimony.
  • Trial: Rendered before one judge and/or a jury. Jury determines facts and judge determines sentence.
  • Appeal: Rendered before a panel of generally three appellate court judges who review trial record and briefs. No jury.

In essence, a criminal appeal gives convicted individuals an avenue to have their case heard before a higher court to possibly overturn or modify the initial verdict and sentence. Understanding this distinction between an appeal and a full criminal trial is key.

The Appeals Process: How it Works

Navigating the appeals process involves multiple steps, each bound by rigid procedural rules and strict deadlines. Having an experienced criminal appeals lawyer is essential. The basic process includes:

1. Filing the Notice of Appeal

This must be filed with the court that handled the original trial (the trial court). This formal notice activates the appeals process and sets deadlines for the next steps. Specific timeframes for filing this notice vary significantly by state. Most range between 10 to 90 days after sentencing.

2. Reviewing the Case Record

The court clerk compiles all filings from the Criminal case before sending them to the appeals court. The appellate lawyers then scour these documents —including pre-trial motions, hearing transcripts, and listening to full trial audio recordings—searching for any appealable issues.

3. Writing the Appellate Brief

Here the appellant’s lawyer outlines the legal basis for the appeal. This complex document requires mastery of appellate rules and of identifying how lower court errors justify overturning or modifying the judgment. The brief must specifically state the desired outcome of the appeal’s proceedings.

4. Waiting for Opposing Brief

After submitting their initial appellate brief, the appellant must wait for the appellee (the prosecution/respondent) to file a brief countering their arguments. This allows both sides to fully address the context surrounding identified errors.

5. Drafting the Reply Brief

The appellant gets one last written argument (the “reply brief”) responding to points raised in the appellee’s brief. It reinforces why the appeals court should rule in their favor.

6. Oral Arguments Hearing

Next comes optional oral arguments where each lawyer presents their key points before a three-judge appeals court panel. The judges often interrupt with tough questions. Afterward the judges deliberate privately.

7. Appeals Decision Issued

Finally, the judges issue their appellate decision, likely weeks or months after oral arguments. The court can affirm the convictionreverse all or portions of the verdict and order a new trial, remand to resentence, or in rare instances dismiss the charges fully.

Grounds for Filing a Criminal Appeal

Convictions and sentences can only be overturned on appeal if “reversible error” has occurred in the handling of the case. There are four main categories providing such grounds for appeal:

1. Constitutional Rights Violations

Allegations of violations of the defendant’s constitutional rights, like violations of:

  • Amendment to right to effective legal counsel
  • Amendment to protection against self-incrimination or double jeopardy
  • Amendment to ban on cruel & unusual punishment applied to harsh sentencing

2. Insufficient Evidence to Support Verdict

Claims the prosecution failed to provide adequate factual proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” to warrant conviction on the charges filed

3. Sentencing Errors or Abuses of Discretion

Allegations judge abused their discretion by:

  • Misapplying criminal sentencing guidelines
  • Failing to consider mitigating factors
  • Imposing consecutive sentences improperly

4. Procedural or Legal Errors by the Court

Claims of major procedural legal mistakes that violated appellant’s right to fair trial:

  • Erroneous jury instructions given
  • Improperly handled witness testimony or evidence
  • Biased juror selection process
  • Judicial misconduct

It is critical to have a skilled appellate lawyer identify all appealable issues because issues not properly preserved on the record prior to appeal will be deemed waived.

The Importance of a Good Criminal Appeals Attorney

Successfully appealing a criminal conviction is incredibly difficult—with national reversal rates averaging below 25%. There are complex procedural hurdles, strict deadlines, an enormous workload of trial record review, and multiple written legal briefs to prepare. Retaining an experienced criminal appeals specialist is crucial for multiple reasons:

  • They help identify often non-obvious appealable issues hidden within the trial record before the opportunity expires forever.
  • They have mastery of the complicated rules of appellate procedure which differ significantly from typical trial rules.
  • They possess strong written advocacy skills for drafting the intricately structured and referenced appellate brief.
  • Their legal research and persuasive writing makes the best argument distorting the appellant’s rights were violated to justify reversing the conviction.
  • They provide new perspective with fresh eyes divorced from earlier proceedings.
  • Their expertise reading trial records also facilitates providing alternative case strategies for possible retrial and negotiations.

Do not wait to consult an appellate lawyer and maximize the odds of successfully challenging your conviction or sentence through the appeals process.

Call us now for an urgent appointment at +971506531334 +971558018669

Outcomes When a Criminal Appeal is Successful

The appeals court has wide latitude when deciding appeals and several options of legal relief including:

  • Full reversal: Vacating the judgment fully hence requiring all charges dismissed or a new trial.
  • Partial reversal: Overturning one or more charges while affirming the rest. Can remand for partial retrial.
  • “remand” for re-sentencing if sentencing errors found but conviction affirmed.
  • Evin “modification of sentence terms” if original punishment was unduly severe.

Any modification of the conviction or sentence provides important opportunities for the defense. Having charges dismissed fully creates potential leverage negotiating a favorable plea bargain with the prosecution pre-retrial to avoid trial uncertainty. After sentencing errors, the defense can provide additional mitigating evidence towards a lesser punishment.


Given extremely high incarceration rates and sentences far exceeding global norms, mounting an appeal remains an integral part of the criminal justice process. While statistically difficult, identifying good appeal grounds provides convicted individuals their last avenue seeking justice to correct lower court mistakes. Engaging professional representation maximizes the prospects for relief through thorough review of the trial record. With sound arguments and skilled advocacy, overturning wrongful verdicts, securing retrials, and modifying severe sentences remains possible. Appealing protects rights.

Key Takeaways:

  • Appeals courts focus on legal errors, not facts or evidence like trials
  • Most appeals challenge ineffective counsel, insufficient evidence, or court mistakes
  • Success requires appeals lawyers versed in complex specialized procedures
  • Strong written arguments are necessary as appeals are mostly handled in writing
  • Reversal rates remain below 25%, but relief from errors remains invaluable

Call us now for an urgent appointment at +971506531334 +971558018669

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