How Does the Appeals Process Differ in Federal and State Cases

A criminal charge will be brought in either state or federal court, depending upon the nature of the offense. Federal courts handle cases that cross state lines, involve federal statutes, or involve a federal agency. State courts, on the other hand, handle most other criminal cases.  Ninety percent of criminal cases are handled at the state level.


If an individual is convicted of a crime and would like to appeal that decision, they will have to go through the court system that convicted them in the first place. That means that federal cases will go through the federal appeals system, and state cases will go through the state appeals system. While the state appeals systems are very similar across the country, small differences like deadlines can make a big difference in your case.


What Happens When You File for an Appeal in the State of Texas?


What Happens When You File for an Appeal in the State of Texas

We have outlined the basics of the federal appeals process in a previous blog post. Basically, the defendant of a criminal case has to file for an appeal with a federal appellate court. The appeals process does not require the defendant to appear in an actual court. Although oral arguments are beneficial for the defendant, appeals decisions are usually made based on written briefs.


If trial errors are found, a retrial will be set. A judgment of acquittal may also set the defendant free, but this is rare occurrence. Courts pay deference to jury findings.


State appeals have a similar process to federal appeals, but it is important for defendants filing an appeal to pay attention to state-specific deadlines and appellate rules. State appeals courts hear both criminal and civil appeals.


So how about the Lone Star State?


To initiate the appeals process in Texas, you have to file a Notice of Appeal. This notice will include information about where the case with tried and its result.


If you want to file additional motions, like a Motion for New Trial or Motion to Modify Judgment, you have to be aware of the deadlines and process for such filings.


If you would like to request oral arguments before an appeals court, you must include this request in your original Appellate Brief. Oral arguments are generally requested when certain facts are in dispute or a novel legal issue needs elaboration for the court. If the issues raised on appeal are strictly legal, then they can be resolved through briefs and not oral argument.


The original notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the original judgment. Additional motions must be filed within 90 days.


If you do not file the notice of appeal on time, you may file a notice of restricted appeal or writ of error appeal.


An appeal can take eight to twelve months before a formal decision is rendered. It is, therefore, wise to proceed through the initial filing/docketing process in a timely manner.


Houston Federal Appeals Attorney

While an appeal bond is available in certain cases and circumstances, most criminal defendants must await either in jail or prison until their appeal becomes final. A judgment of conviction is not considered final until the direct appeal process is finalized. A criminal defendant, however, receives credit toward his sentence for time spent in custody awaiting an appeal decision.


An appeal is not defendant-friendly. An appellate court will not look through the transcripts or exhibits on file for errors. An appellate court will consider only those issues timely and properly objected to at the trial level. If a proper objection is not made at the trial level, the issue is not considered by the appellate court as being preserved for review.


State appeals courts exist primarily for one purpose: to make sure a criminal defendant’s statutory and constitutional rights were not violated in the trial process.


A word of caution, however. Even if there is a statutory or constitutional violation, the appellate court may conduct what is called a “harm analysis.” In other words, the appellate court may find error but given the overwhelming evidence of guilt, the court may consider the error “harmless.”


A successful appeal at either the state or federal level can have two results: a defendant can be acquitted because the appellate court found the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction; or the defendant’s case can be remanded back to the trial court for a retrial or resentencing.


Filing an Appeal? Get To Work


If you are filing a criminal appeal in the state of Texas, know that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Appeals courts in general tend to side with prosecutors. In order to file an appeal, you must be confident that your case has merit, and that errors were made to wrongfully convict you of a crime. Appeals can be costly – make sure it is worth your money before you begin the filing process.


The first step – talk to a lawyer with experience in handling Texas appeals, and make sure they are by your side throughout this process. The harder – and smarter – you fight, the higher your chances of getting a positive outcome.