Sentenced, but NOT Guilty?
Losing a case is not the end of the world, and you should not have to face a sentence if you have not commited a crime. Remember, you are entitled to appeal. The decision of a lower court proceeding can be appealed and the case can then go to an appellate court to review those aspects of a case, which might have an unnoticed legal error. If you are found guilty in a criminal case of any charge, as a defendant, you have all the right to appeal against that conviction, sentence or punishment in the higher court. An appeal rarely challenges the jury’s decision, but rather challenges any errors that the prosecution or judge might have made during the preliminary hearing, pre-trial or motions or the trial itself.
Introduction to Criminal Appeals
In a criminal appeal, the appellant or defendant argues on the basis of key legal mistakes, which might have affected the jury’s decision and, therefore, requests the case to be dismissed or the appellant to be re-sentenced or re-tried. The two most important aspects in a criminal appeal are the record and briefs. While considering any appeal, the court does not consider any new evidence and looks only at the ‘record’ of the case proceedings. The record usually consists of the court reporter’s transcripts of what is said in the court by the attorneys, the judge, and the witnesses. The briefs are filed by both sides of the appeal and the high court uses these briefs and record for taking any decision on it.
The Basis for a Criminal Appeal
In the U.S. judicial system, there is a preference for the court’s findings and rulings. This makes it a must for the aggrieved party to demonstrate that a substantial error was made at the trial level. Any harmless error, which does make a substantial impact on the trial’s results cannot reverse the judgement of the lower court. The two basic grounds for the appeal are as follows:
- The evidence is not strong enough to support the verdict.
- The lower court has made an error of law that is serious and plain.
An error is said to be plain if it affects the defendant’s substantial rights. In any event, it will always form a basis for a criminal appeal.
The Appeal Process
The process of criminal appeal starts with a notice of the appeal, which must be filed by the petitioner or appellant within 30 days of the ruling in the state court and 60 days in the federal court. The petitioner generally submits the legal brief detailing the errors of law made by the trial court, and the respondent writes a response. Once the court receives both the respondent and petitioner briefs, it will re-analyze the arguments to determine whether these errors were actually made by the trial court and do these errors rise to the level of serious and reversible errors. Any error, which is regarded as harmless error will be overlooked by the appellate court. If the need arises, the court will also decide to hear the oral arguments from each side. The petitioner and respondent will each present their arguments and field questions from the judge for approximately 10-15 minutes each side.
Although everyone has the right to challenge an illegal sentence or an imprisonment, the court still would insist on a strong and convincing evidence to carry it forward for the re-trial process.