APPEALS

An appeal from a criminal conviction may be an individual’s last best hope at freedom – it can even mean the difference between life and death.  Any person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal his or her conviction to a higher court.  This is known as a direct appeal or an appeal “as a matter of right.” Appeals are generally limited to a review of the trial record to determine whether any errors were made were prior to and/or at trial, which would entitle the defendant/appellant to a reversal of the sentence or conviction.  There are several significant differences between Florida’s state appellate process and the federal appellate process.

Federal:

Under Federal law, a notice of appeal in a federal criminal case must be made to the appropriate court of appeals within 14 days of the date the judgment and sentence are imposed.  After the notice of appeal is filed, docketing statements are filed, transcripts ordered and any fees paid. The initial statements with the court are filed so that the appellate court’s clerk knows how to handle the case.  The court reporter will then have to prepare transcripts.

After filing the Notice of Appeal, the federal circuit court of appeals will issue a briefing schedule and will give the appellant forty-five days to file an initial brief.  The initial brief generally describes what happened in the trial court, what happened before the trial started, what errors were made, and how the court should correct those errors.  Called an Appellant’s brief, it is a lengthy document with citations to the errors that occurred and other cases (precedent) that direct how those errors should be corrected.  The initial brief must persuade the court of appeals the errors are illegal and that a new sentence or trial is required.

After the initial brief is filed, the government must file an answer brief. In doing so, the government will respond to the arguments made in the appellant’s brief.

After the government files its answer brief, the defendant/appellant may file a reply brief.  The reply brief may respond to the points the government made and reaffirm the points made in your initial brief.

After these filings are complete, the entire case on appeal along with the record of the trial court proceedings is submitted to a panel of three federal circuit judges who will examine the case and the arguments of the parties.

The three judge panel may then order oral argument in person before the court or they may simply decide the issues without any oral argument. If the panel orders oral argument then both sides will be given an opportunity to argue their case to those judges.  The three judges will then decide the case.

Generally, an appeal in a criminal matter discusses one, or many general types of issues.  For example, one issue that may be raised is that pretrial motions were improperly decided against the defendant.  Evidence that was improperly obtained and used against the defendant through an illegal search warrant or an involuntary statement to law enforcement that violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, may be one such issue.  In the appellate court, the defendant may argue that the district court made a mistake by allowing such evidence to be considered during trial.

A defendant may also challenge evidentiary issues.  For example, if the district court judge prevented a particular witness from testifying as a defense witness who should have been allowed to testify, one may argue to the court of appeals that the district court made a mistake requiring a new trial.

One may also challenge the sufficiency of the evidence or, in other words, whether there was substantial competent evidence to support a conviction for the charged offenses.  If the Government did not present enough evidence to support a finding of guilt, one may raise the issue with the court of appeals.

Issues that relate to sentencing may also be raised on appeal.  When doing so, one may argue that the process the judge followed when imposing sentence was incorrect, unfair, ill considered, or illegal and order that the district judge re-sentence the defendant accordingly.

Once the panel of circuit judges decide the appeal, the losing party may also be able to ask the circuit court to rehear the case with or without with all members of the court.  One may even petition the United States Supreme Court to hear the case.

Florida:

Under Florida law, a party may appeal any final order or judgment of the trial court.  The first step in doing so is the filing of a Notice of Appeal with the clerk of the trial court.  The filing party typically has only 30 days from the date of the final judgment or order to initiate the appeal. Thus, anyone convicted of a criminal offense has a right of appeal to the next highest court.  One notable exception exists, however, in that the Florida Supreme Court has exclusive mandatory appellate jurisdiction over any sentence of death.  In other words, appeals of death sentences automatically by-pass the District Court of Appeal and go directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

Depending on the nature of the case and the particular appellate court, the appellant might have to file a statement identifying the parties, attorneys, and issues to be reviewed.

Attorney Paul Petruzzi has many years of experience in criminal appeals. It is important for one to hire an experienced attorney when choosing to appeal a criminal conviction.  Attorney Paul Petruzzi’s knowledge and expertise in this field of law is a vital asset to anyone looking to appeal their criminal conviction. Call today for a free consultation.

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