Are you unsatisfied with your case outcome? Do you think the judge's verdict was not fair? Fortunately, you can appeal your conviction. An appeal involves requesting a higher court to review the lower court's decision and determine if there are legal errors. The appeal is a legal process that requires robust legal arguments to be successful. That is where a competent legal team comes in. At San Diego Criminal Attorney, we have significant experience in pursuing post-conviction relief and appealing criminal cases.

Understanding the Appellate Process in California

A judge can make a wrong ruling, a prosecutor can be unethical, and the criminal defense attorney can act with incompetence, resulting in the jury returning an unfavorable verdict. If these things occurred to you and resulted in a criminal conviction, do not despair. The California laws allow you to file an appeal. Sometimes it opens the door of another trial and an opportunity of acquittal.

An appeal can be defined as a request for the appellate court (a higher court) to analyze the decision of the trial court (Superior Court). Please note, the appeal isn't another trial. Also, the higher court doesn't:

  • Retry your case,
  • Study new proof, or
  • Accept witnesses' testimonies.

However, the higher court reviews the proceeding, which occurred in the lower court to check if there were legal mistakes that greatly affected the constitutional rights of the parties involved. It is achieved by analyzing:

  • The Superior Court's record
  • Transcript of the clerk (consists of all documents, motions, and exhibits proved by written communication)
  • Arguments presented by lawyers (they can be verbal or written)

How to Win Your Appeal If a Legal Error Happened at a Trial Court

As previously mentioned, an appellate court does not deal with legal mistakes. If the Superior Court made a legal mistake, it implies that an individual involved with your original case did not adhere to the law.

Legal concerns can include:

  • The judge did not correctly exclude or admit evidence
  • The judge did not instruct the jury properly
  • The prosecution team acted unethically
  • The criminal defense attorney did not effectively offer counsel assistance
  • The court abused the discretion when sentencing you

Issues like:

  • a witness' credibility,
  • the worth of specific evidence, and
  • whether you are guilty or innocent,

are questions of facts and within the lower court's jurisdiction. Since the trial judge and jury members evaluated the appropriate questions of facts, the higher court assumes the issues were decided accurately. 

To Win Your Appeal, You Should Also Prove the Mistakes were Prejudicial

Determining that a legal mistake exists isn't enough to change a sentence or conviction. The court should decide that the mistake favored one party over the other. Prejudice is proved when there is a reasonable possibility that the legal mistake made a change in your case outcome.

If you (the appellant) cannot establish that the mistake was biased, the court won't modify the lower court's rulings.

Basis of Appealing Your Conviction

An appeal is not available to people who don't just like their case results. The possibility of overturning your conviction or sentence on appeal depends on how strong your argument is. Common arguments include:

False Arrest

If the police officers did not have the authority to detain you, the case could be overturned through appeal. In other words, if for instance, the arresting police officer:

  • broke the search and seizure laws when arresting you,
  • did not have probable cause when they arrested or detained you,
  • detained you without an arrest warrant and did not adhere to the right arrest warrant exemptions,

then the arrest serves as a valid legal defense. It could also be the basis of your appeal.

Sentencing Errors

Often sentencing errors offer a basis on which to appeal your sentence.

Before the court punishes you, the judge should follow the rule that governs sentencing hearings. Sometimes that means the judge should state their reason for selecting a specific verdict. It could also mean the judge could impose your sentence on one charge, even if you are found guilty of several allegations. Other times, it means the judge will order numerous convictions to be served concurrently rather than consecutively.

If the judge ignores the sentencing rules, they impose an unlawful sentence. If your attorney can persuade the Appellate Court that the judge imposed a wrong verdict, the court will remand your case to the lower case and order the judge to sentence you appropriately. It can result in being sentenced to a lesser time.

Jury Misconduct

Jury misconduct is when the jury members engage in illegal or inappropriate conduct that compromises your rights to a fair trial. Examples of this behavior include:

  • Failing to deliberate
  • Intentionally hiding essential information that might impact an impartial deliberation
  • Conducting factual investigations that go beyond the admitted proof

Unlike other grounds, jury misconduct brings a rebuttable assumption of prejudice. Therefore, it is the respondent's responsibility (the person opposing your appeal) to present evidence that the misconduct didn't cause prejudice.

Prosecutorial Misconduct

If the prosecution team was dishonest or tried to convince the court or jury with reprehensible or deceptive methods and the conduct was so prejudicial that the judge could not correct the situation by either

  • striking the prosecutor's statement or
  • evidence,

and instructing the jury to disregard the act, you could have a right to an appeal.

The following acts are prosecutorial misconduct:

  • Appealing to the prejudices and passions of the jury
  • Intentionally misstating evidence or law
  • Commenting on inadmissible evidence

Remember, it isn't sufficient that the prosecution team acted unethically. Its conduct should also lead to bias.

Ineffective Counsel Assistance

Sometimes it is your criminal defense lawyer who made a legal error. If you can establish that the trial attorney was not competent and their performance was flawed that deprived you of the entitlement to a just trial, you might have a right to an appeal.

The Appellate Court will assume that the lawyer's conduct falls under acceptable professional help and that the inaction or action could be justified as a trial strategy matter.

Nevertheless, this ground is a valid basis to file an appeal if the appellant can present evidence that:

  • The lawyer's behavior was deficient since their legal representation was below the objective standard of reasonableness according to the professional norms
  • The fact that the lawyer did not act competently caused the biased verdict

Inadequate Evidence

From time to time, the jury makes mistakes.

The jury could make decisions based on prejudice or emotions rather than the law and facts. As a result, you are convicted even when there is no compelling proof to support the verdict.

Luckily, the law requires the prosecutor to prove your guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. The phrase "beyond any reasonable doubt" means the proof is definite, and there is no explanation apart from the fact that you violated the law.

When the prosecutor fails to establish the case beyond any reasonable doubt, but the jury finds you guilty, you can appeal your conviction.

Improper Exclusion or Admission of Proof

In all trials, the jury holds a special hearing with only attorneys and hears the evidence. During the hearing, the judges decide which evidence the attorneys can present to the court.

The prosecution team will want to use prejudicial and incriminating evidence, which will make the court convict you. Additionally, the prosecution will want to stop your attorney from presenting evidence that supports you.

On the contrary, your defense attorney will want to present as much exculpatory evidence as possible and stop the prosecutor from presenting incriminating evidence.

Then the judge listens to the arguments and decides what is admissible and not.

Sometimes the judge can make a mistake in the exclusion and admission of evidence ruling. Should this happen, you have a right to file an appeal.

How to File an Appeal

Discussed below is a step-to-step guide on how an appeal in California is filed:

  1. Deadline and Timeframe to Appeal Your Sentence or Conviction

An appeal can reverse your conviction, result in another trial, or offer an opportunity for freedom. However, the window of bringing the appeal does not stay open for long. The clock begins ticking immediately the judge declares the sentence.

The state of California follows stringent rules as far as appeal deadlines are concerned. Failing to meet the timeframes under California's Rules of Court, Title 8 could jeopardize the case. Consequently, it is essential to have an experienced appeals attorney. Without knowing the deadlines, it does not matter how robust the appeal is, missed timeframes can forfeit the appellate rights.

  • Deadlines for bringing a misdemeanor appeal: Misdemeanor appeals in California are brought with the Appellate Division of the California Superior Court. You should bring the Notice of Appeal in thirty days from the date of order or judgment you're appealing.
  • Deadline for bringing a felony appeal: You should file your Notice of Appeal sixty days from the date of the order or judgment you are appealing with the Court of Appeal.

Generally, your appeal should be taken following the final judgment. The final judgment could be:

  • An order issuing probation or final conviction
  • Insanity commitment
  • Addiction commitment
  • A sentence

You could bring the document that appeals to your judgment after the lower court or disputed probation revocation. The notice doesn't need that you count exact issues, and the trial lawyer's description of the matter does not restrict your lawyer. Moreover, you can appeal an order which significantly affected your rights.

Concerning Violation of Search and Seizure Law and "No Contest" or Guilty Pleas

Appealing a "no contest" or guilty plea increases the complexity to your appeal. In case an appellate is appealing their sentencing verdict, the document that initiates the appealing process should indicate that the sentencing appeal taken doesn't challenge the plea's validity.

As far as the appeal of the violation of the search and seizure law is concerned, the appellate should state in their notice of appeal which the appellate intends to file a Fourth Amendment issue. Failing to comply with the rules might make their appeal inoperative.

Guilty pleas renounce the analysis of issues apart those dealing with the appellants' pleas legality, or the jurisdiction of the trial court. Also, to appeal to the concerns, the Superior Court should first give the certificates of probable cause to stop frivolous appeals. After the certificate is granted, appellants can appeal cognizable matters on top of those they previously identified.

Certificate of Probable Cause

It can be issued after a statement that your lawyer executes under oath that shows reasonable jurisdictional, constitutional, or other basis led to unlawful proceedings.

Together with the statement, it is only needed in adult felony appeals. And situations, where the accused has received a death sentence (capital cases), are automatically appealed and don't need the accused or their criminal defense attorney to take action.

When it comes to an appeal from a lower court, you should bring the necessary statement sixty days from the judgment's entry. After filing the statement, the lower court should deny or grant your request within twenty days. Unless the statement is frivolous and doesn't adhere to the applicable laws, the trial court abuses the discretion should it deny the certificate of probable cause.

What Happens When You File Notice of Appeal Late?

While California has strict case appeal deadlines, sometimes you cannot satisfy the timeframes.  Should this happen, you should request the judge to give you relief from the default. The following are the basis which the judge will just do that:

The Trial Lawyer Didn't Perform Responsibilities Linked with Your Appeal.

Your trial lawyer has the responsibility to advise whether there are grounds for modification or reversal of your judgment on the appeal. Therefore, should the legal expert fail to counsel you, the court must issue relief when you move to a court of appeal immediately you learn you are entitled to an appeal.

Additionally, the court could also issue the relief and allow a permit if the trial lawyer informed you of the entitlement to an appeal but did not initiate the case appealing process in time after requesting them to act so.

The judge should also advise you of the entitlement to case appeal if you have either had a disputed probation revocation hearing or stood trial.

Constructive Filing

Constructive filing is useful when a sentenced individual requests the jail or prison to mail a trial court their notice of appeal.

Provided the defendant gives the notice to a prison/jail custodian in the required deadline, the court should issue relief as long as the court got the notice following the timeframe.

Additionally, if the appellate represents themselves and accidentally tries to bring their notice with an incorrect court, the jurisdiction will consider it as brought in the time provided it was sent, and the court could have received it within the correct deadline.

This doctrine also applies if the court officers, prison officials, or any other government officers mislead you about the entitlement to appeal and the existence of grounds for filing an appeal.

  1. Bail During Appeal

After a misdemeanor conviction, you have an entitlement to bail awaiting appeal. For a California felony crime, the matter is within the discretion of the Superior Court.

The request to be set free from police custody on bail should be filed in the lower court. Should the lower court deny the motion, you could appeal the matter to the Appellate Court. However, you have to prove that you applied to a lower court, and the court failed to grant the request.

An appellate should prove the following to be eligible for the bail release after a California felony conviction :

  • They don't pose a risk to members of the community,
  • They aren't appealing the case as a way to delay the case but instead, they re-appeal a valid concern that if determined in their favor, could lead to reversal, and
  • They aren't likely to flee.
  1. Preparation for Court Transcripts

After initiating your case appealing process, the trial court should prepare two (2) transcripts, namely:

  • Reporter's transcript
  • Clerk's transcript

If you notice that transcripts or documents are not in the court record, you can ask that they are included. Usually, standard items consist of:

  • Court minutes
  • Written communication between the jury and judge
  • Exhibits
  • Accusatory pleading and amendments

If missing transcripts or documents aren't standard appeal record items, you should submit an augment motion to the Appellate Court in search of consent to include the material to your transcript.

If the missing items are ones that are not public records like:

  • sealed transcript with an informant identity or
  • psychological or medical reports,

you must request the clerk in the lower court to send the items while sealed to the Appellate Court. Then you should ask the Appellate Court to open the documents. Should the court deny the request, you may ask the court to analyze the items privately.

The Appeal Lawyer Meets the Trial Lawyer

Your appeal lawyer should get in touch with your trial attorney to get the counsel's case impression. While it can be funny in cases whose ground is ineffective help of an attorney, it's still essential in the appeal process.

Your attorney should also review the lower court file. It helps the attorney examine your record and find points and motions of evidence that weren't included in your appellate record.  

  1. Opening Brief

It is the opportunity to tell the Appellate Court why you think you have a right to case appeal. The relief can include:

  • A new sentence
  • Another trial
  • Your conviction reversal

Usually, this brief is lengthy and has summaries of arguments mentioning other cases, case facts, rules, and statutes that prove legal errors made in the trial court. You could submit the brief by bringing both an electronic or paper copy. Your electronic submissions should comply with the law.

  1. Respondent's Brief

Respondent's brief can be brought concerning the opening brief, and its purpose is to validate the legal errors you claim were made.

Usually, the prosecution is the respondent.

  1. Reply Brief

Since the appellate should prove their appeal, the court allows them to file another brief known as a "Reply Brief" should they desire.

You should not raise new concerns but answer to the issues raised by the respondent in their brief.

A reply brief is due 20 days following the filing of a respondent's brief.

Because the Appellate Court has already made its decision, it is essential to bring the reply brief to file a concise reply to the respondent's arguments if the appellant doesn't address them adequately in the opening brief.

  1. Oral Argument

It is a chance to tell the court your position orally.

Oral arguments should be brief and hinging on whether you're appealing a misdemeanor or felony, you have thirty and ten minutes, respectively. Therefore, do not restate the brief’s facts.

Make sure the court comprehends why you think you have a right to relief. Your attorney should ensure they outline the most vital parts of the brief, elaborate them and answer all judges' questions.

  1. Petition for Rehearing

In case you aren't satisfied with the ruling, you can petition for rehearing in fifteen days following the court filing its decision.

The winning party doesn't bring an answer to a petition for rehearing except when the court asks it. Should the court request it, the winning party should bring their answer within eight days from the date the court filed the request.

If your case is before the Supreme Court, a winning party could file their answer to the petition of hearing. It does not matter whether it is in the absence of permission from the court. The answer should be brought within eight days following the filing of the petition for rehearing.

  1. Petition for Review

After the Appellate Court declares its decision, every party has a right to apply for review to the California Supreme Court. Additionally, the court can review the decision of the lower court on its motion.

It should be filed ten days from the date the Appellate Court brings its opinion. The California Supreme Court doesn't automatically take all appeals and discriminates what cases to analyze. 

Find a Seasoned Criminal Appeal Attorney Near Me

When judges and juries get it wrong, an appeal process offers you a way to contest your case outcome. However, the appeal process is complicated, and it is essential to talk to a lawyer with experience working in the higher court. At San Diego Criminal Attorney, we will listen to your account of what happened in your case and file an appeal. Call us today at 619-880-5474 for a free initial consultation.