The justice system isn’t always perfect. Although endowed with numerous procedural protections and safeguards, trial of criminal cases can, and often do, result in unfair verdicts. Jury biases, police misconduct, and/or prosecutorial misconduct can skew the facts against the defendant being tried by a judge or jury.
So what do you do if it happens to you?
You file an appeal.
Filing a criminal appeal is a statutory process that allows higher appellate courts to review proper objections made by defense counsel during the trial. An appellate court has a range of options: reversal of conviction, enter a judgment of acquittal, or remand for a fact-finding hearing. The catch is that a defendant must act timely.
If you have been convicted of a crime in Texas, you have just 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal and begin fighting for the justice you deserve.
What Is a Criminal Appeal?
You may not be aware of exactly what a criminal appeal is. There are a lot of misconceptions that this is a request to an appellate court essentially asking for a “do-over” after being found guilty. That is not what a criminal appeal is designed to do.
Criminal Appeal Requests a Review of Procedural Handlings
Essentially a criminal appeal requests an appellate court to review the procedural handling of the case prior to and during the trial. For example, the higher court will review claims that evidence was seized unlawfully, that expert testimony was flawed, and/or the prosecution misused preemptive challenges in a racially discriminatory manner—provided that timely and proper objections were made to these issues.
It cannot be stressed enough that appellate courts will not entertain issues on appeal that were not timely and properly objected to at the trial court level.
Appellate Courts Are on a Completely Separate Circuit
Criminal appeals in Texas are heard by 14 appellate courts with at least three elected judges sitting in each. These courts handle both criminal and civil appeals.
The first step to filing your notice of criminal appeal is figuring out which appellate court your case will be heard in. You can do this by confirming with the appellate clerk on duty. (Or, you can consult with an experienced Texas criminal appeals attorney.)
Steps in the Texas Criminal Appeal Process
How do you start this process?
The first step is filing a notice of appeal in the trial court. You have 30 days to file this notice.
Once the notice is filed, here are the next steps in the Texas criminal appeal process:
- Your appeal attorney will develop and file a brief.
- The State will also file a brief during this period.
After the court has reviewed the briefs, the court will render a decision.
There are instances, however, where appellate judges feel additional examination is needed, and will issue a notice of oral arguments. Once oral arguments take place, the appellate court will then issue a final decision.
The defendant, of course, has a right to request a rehearing, which are rarely granted.
What Happens If You Win an Appeal in Texas?
Let’s say the court determines that there was prosecutorial misconduct or some other harmful statutory or constitutional violation, any of the following scenarios may occur:
- The “guilty” verdict is reversed and a new trial is recommended
- The “guilty” verdict is reversed and the charges are dismissed
- A reversal of judgment may be ordered and a sentence will be determined by a new trial
- Prosecutors will offer you a plea agreement with a reduced sentence
- You are acquitted of all charges and will not have to go through a second trial
Although it might not seem that way, these are all your best-case scenarios. You should know that unfortunately, not all appellate cases are decided in favor of the defendant.
What Happens If Your Appeal Is Denied in Texas?
A defendant may seek discretionary review before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. This process requires the filing of a petition that must raise significant statutory or constitutional issues the defendant claims were not properly dealt with by the court of appeals. The State files a reply petition stating why the appeals court decision should be upheld.
The Court of Criminal Appeals will almost always base its decisions on the petitions presented.
If you have been recently convicted of a crime, or your appeal has been denied by one of the intermediate appellate courts, reach out to a Texas appeals lawyer with experience at handling direct appeals, discretionary review petitions, and post-conviction pleadings, always mindful of the strict time constraints in these proceedings.