A criminal conviction is devastating not only for the convicted defendant, but for his or her loved ones as well, and when a conviction occurs because the judge made a bad ruling, the prosecution acted unethically or the defense team was incompetent or inadequate, the defendant may have grounds for appeal. Any person convicted of a crime in California has the right to appeal the conviction if he or she believes a serious error occurred that affected the outcome of the case. If you were convicted of a state or federal crime in California, and you believe the conviction was wrongful or the sentence handed down by the court was unreasonably harsh, contact Pat Ford Appeals today to learn about your options for appellate review. Whether you want to appeal your conviction or challenge your sentence, Pat Ford can help.
California Criminal Appeals Attorney
Clifton Maxwell and Pat Ford leaving Soledad State Prison after 12 years in the state and federal appeals courts.
If you have been wrongfully convicted of a criminal offense, you may feel like your life is over, but it is important to remember that you are afforded certain rights under the law and a criminal conviction does not necessarily mean your legal battle is over. After being convicted and sentenced for a crime in California, you have the right to file an appeal asking a higher court to review the trial court’s decision and reverse the decision either in whole or in part. The appeals process is complex and confusing and requires the expertise of a criminal appeals attorney who knows the law and can scrutinize trial records and identify instances where the judge, jury, prosecutor or defense attorn mistake. Attorney Pat Ford has more than 30 years of experience in criminal defense and appeals and has helped thousands of clients appeal wrongful convictions and unreasonably harsh sentences. Pat Ford Appeals represents clients on appeal and in post-conviction petition and proceedings in state and federal courts throughout Southern California, including appeals in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino, and in Northern California as well, including in Fresno, the Sacramento Metro Area and the San Francisco Bay Area.
What is a Criminal Appeal?
A criminal appeal is a petition to a higher court by a defendant in a criminal case to overturn or reverse a lower court’s ruling in the case based on any “reversible errors” of law made by the trial court. Any individual who has been convicted of a crime in California can appeal the conviction or unfairly harsh sentence, at which point a higher court would review certain aspects of the criminal case in order to determine whether any errors were made by the trial court. According to the American Bar Association, the purpose of a criminal appeal is:
- To protect defendants against prejudicial legal error in the proceedings leading to conviction and against verdicts unsupported by sufficient evidence;
- Authoritatively to develop and refine the substantive and procedural doctrines of criminal law; and
- To foster and maintain uniform, consistent standards and practices in criminal process.
How Criminal Appeals Work
Appealing a criminal case does not mean the defendant is asking for a new trial before a higher court because he or she isn’t satisfied with the outcome of the original trial. Rather, the appellant, or the individual pursuing the appeal, is asserting that the lower court made certain legal errors in conducting the trial, which affected the outcome (i.e. the jury’s decision and/or the sentence imposed by the judge). It is also possible to appeal a guilty or no contest plea, but generally only if the appellant is appealing a sentencing or Fourth Amendment issue. The main priority of the appellate court is to determine whether the criminal conviction itself or the sentence resulting from the conviction were reached in error. Therefore, the court will only review the record of the lower court’s proceedings, which includes all pre-trial and post-trial motions, the court reporter’s transcripts of statements made by the judge, attorneys and witnesses during the course of the trial, and any documents or items that were entered into evidence, as well as the written briefs filed by both sides in the appeal. The court will not retry the case, review any new evidence or hear testimony from witnesses during a criminal appeal.
Are You Eligible for Appeal?
For any individual who has been wrongfully convicted of a crime or unfairly sentenced because of reversible errors made by the court, there are certain post-conviction remedies, including filing an appeal to have the conviction reversed or the sentence reduced. An appeal will only be considered if the appellate court determines that there were errors of law made by the trial court and these errors are “reversible errors,” or very serious errors. Some examples of errors that may be grounds for appeal in a criminal case include the following:
- Improperly admitted evidence
- Lack of sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict
- Incorrect jury instructions
- Alcohol or drug abuse during trial or deliberations
- Improper communication between jurors and counsel or witnesses
- Commenting on inadmissible evidence
- Intentionally misstating the law or evidence
Ineffective assistance of counsel
- The defense attorney’s representation was flawed to the extent that it deprived the defendant of his or her Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial
In order for the appellate court to grant an appeal, the court must find that the errors in question were serious enough that they affected the outcome of the criminal case. If the court finds that the outcome of the case would have been the same had the errors not been made, the errors will be considered harmless and the lower court’s decision will stand.
Appeals for Capital Offenses
In California and other states, convicted offenders are granted an automatic appeal for capital offenses involving the death penalty, the most common of which is capital murder, or first-degree murder with special circumstances. There are other less common criminal offenses in California for which the death penalty can be imposed as punishment, including treason against the state of California, perjury resulting in the execution of an innocent person, sabotaging a train with the result that a person is killed, and fatal assault by an escaped convict serving a life sentence in state prison.
Criminal Appeals Process
In most jurisdictions, California included, the court system is divided into three levels: the trial court, the appellate court and the supreme court. The trial court hears criminal cases, reviews the evidence and testimony provided by both sides, and makes a decision based on the facts of the case. The purpose of the appellate court is to identify and remedy any errors made by trial courts and provide a fair and timely resolution to any criminal appeal. The highest court is the supreme court and this court is primarily responsible for reviewing the decisions of lower trial courts or intermediate appellate courts. If you are filing a misdemeanor appeal in California, you would file your notice of appeal with the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, or if you are filing a felony appeal, with the California Court of Appeal.
By filing a criminal appeal, you can challenge a criminal conviction and/or the sentencing portion of the court’s decision, depending on the circumstances of the case. For instance, if you were wrongfully convicted of a crime, you can appeal the conviction itself. Alternatively, if you were appropriately convicted of a crime, but a judge sentences you to a term of imprisonment that is unreasonably long, you may only appeal the prison term without challenging the underlying conviction. In California, the appeals process generally includes the following stages:
- Filing a notice of appeal
- Obtaining the trial record
- Appellant’s opening brief
- Respondent’s brief
- Appellant’s reply brief
- Conducting oral arguments
- The court’s ruling
- Petition for rehearing
- Petition for review
There are important requirements and deadlines that must be met in order for an appeal to be considered, and if you fail to satisfy these requirements or meet certain deadlines, your appeal application could end up being denied. For instance, in California state court proceedings, the appellant has 30 days from the date of the ruling to file a notice of appeal for a misdemeanor appeal or 60 days to file a notice of appeal for a felony appeal.
Winning an Appeal
In any criminal trial, the prosecution is required to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and if the jurors in a criminal case return a guilty verdict, it is because they have determined that, based on the evidence presented at trial, there can be no other reasonable explanation derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime in question. During an appeal, however, the burden of proof lies with the defendant, who must prove that an error of law was made by the court, the error was serious and not harmless, and it affected the outcome of the case.
What an Appeal Could Mean for You
If you are successful in your criminal appeal, the type of remedy that the appellate court will issue depends on the grounds on which you appealed the conviction. There are two main remedies that may result from a successful appeal:
- Reversal – Your conviction is reversed, the charges against you are dismissed and you walk free (on the grounds of insufficient evidence to support a conviction)
- Remand – The court sends your case back to the trial court in order for the error to be cured (on the grounds of an unreasonably harsh sentence)
If your appeal is unsuccessful, you can appeal your conviction to the California Supreme Court, which is the highest court in California. If you were convicted of a crime in federal court, however, you would appeal your case to the federal appellate court, which is the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit, or, if the appeal is unsuccessful, to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Finding the Right Criminal Appeals Lawyer
The criminal justice system is far from perfect and there are many cases in which reversible errors are made that result in wrongful convictions or improper sentencing. Fortunately, the law accounts for such errors by allowing for a process of appeals. If you are the victim of a wrongful criminal conviction or unfair sentencing in California, you need a skilled criminal appeals attorney who can examine the trial proceedings for reversible errors that may make you eligible for an appeal. As a general rule, the attorney who handled your criminal trial will not handle your appeal. Criminal appeals are a highly specialized area of the law and appeals are typically handled by attorneys who have experience working with higher courts and navigating the appeals process for your particular court and jurisdiction. Pat Ford, an appeals lawyer, has extensive experience representing clients in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of California, and he is committed to helping appellants in criminal appeals cases present their case in the most convincing way possible. When you hire an experienced criminal appeals attorney like Pat Ford to handle your appeal, he will ensure that you understand the appeals process and your rights under the law and will aggressively fight for a favorable resolution to your case.
Call Us Today for a Free Consultation
Filing a criminal appeal in California is not a sure thing. In fact, the chances of overturning a criminal conviction on appeal are generally not great, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still fight for your rights. In some cases, criminal convictions do get reversed or overturned, but it takes an aggressive, practiced California criminal appeals lawyer who has the knowledge and skill necessary to identify errors made by the trial court and present them in a convincing manner to the appellate court. If you plan to appeal a criminal conviction or sentence in California at the state or federal level, you want Pat Ford handling your appeal. Pat Ford’s appellate practice is focused on appealing misdemeanor and appealing a felony conviction in California, and with his talent and expertise on your side, you can significantly improve your chances of getting your conviction reversed.