Once an individual faces a judge after the jury has returned a verdict in a criminal trial, the sentencing that occurs may seem especially harsh if they believe that the process or final outcome was unfair. Just because the trial is over does not have to mean the case is settled, however.
After conviction, the accused has the option to appeal the verdict. The common grounds for appeal are:
- the lower court made an error of law
- the lower court made an errant ruling
- there was insufficient evidence to render a verdict
- the accused did not receive the constitutional right of effective counsel under the Sixth Amendment
In an appeal of a decision by a lower court, the appellate court does not involve a jury, only the counsel for each party and a panel of judges, so it is the arguments by each party and the consensus of the panel that decides these cases.
The main vehicle of persuasion of the counsel for the defense is the appellate brief, which lays out arguments for a review of the cited errors in the trial. Succeeding in an appeal lies not only in the effectiveness of the brief, but also in how thoroughly the counsel for the defendant put critical evidence into the record at the original trial.
The arguments for a successful criminal appeal
If there has been an error of law, also called plain error, the defense will argue that this defect harmed the defendant’s substantive rights. Even where the defense did not raise objections at trial, this argument can overturn the prior verdict or lead to re-sentencing.
By that same token, as trial judges have a wide range of discretion in certain rulings, the appeal can overturn a verdict if the court finds that the judge made a ruling that was unreasonable or arbitrary.
Although harder to prove, the defendant may appeal a decision on grounds of insufficient evidence. If the trial judge had admitted or barred the admission of key evidence at trial that would be crucial to the final verdict, this can lead to a successful appeal based on a lack of sufficient evidence.
It is also possible to appeal a decision if the defendant’s counsel was so ineffective or inadequate that it was impossible for the accused to receive a fair trial. This argument also may hold up if a juror was found to be asleep at trial.
For residents of Seattle and throughout Washington, a successful appeal or post-conviction litigation to reverse an unjust or damaging conviction hinges on effective representation with an in-depth knowledge of the appeals process.