In the United States, our Constitution affords us the right to due process, and part of that is the right to appeal a court's decision. That means if your criminal trial did not conclude with the outcome you had hoped, you may be able to appeal if sufficient grounds are present. Keep in mind, however, that an appeal is not the same thing as a new trial. Many defendants also think that if they appeal, they can introduce new evidence, but that is only another misconception about criminal appeals. Criminal appeals in Alabama are only permissible in certain situations, and neither retrying the case nor admitting new evidence are grounds for or occur during an appeal.
It's best not to navigate the criminal justice system on your own. At Segal and Segal, our criminal defense lawyer in Huntsville and Madison County will explain what your options are if you are found guilty and subsequently sentenced. If an appeal is appropriate, we will discuss exactly what that may involve with you. It can be costly to appeal, so you always want to start your criminal defense off right by hiring a criminal defense lawyer who will fight to uphold your rights and seek the best outcome. Call us today at (256) 533 - 4529 to schedule a consultation if you have been arrested and charged with a crime or have been found guilty and want to appeal.
Criminal Appeals in Alabama
There are two basic types of appeals in a criminal case in Alabama.
If a misdemeanor case has been tried in a District or Municipal court before a judge, only that person can appeal the case and ask for a jury trial. This type of appeal is called an "Appeal De Novo" and essentially functions as a do-over for someone unsatisfied with the decision of the Municipal or District Court. Be aware that if you pled guilty in either the District or Municipal court, you probably have waive your right to an appeal, and if you've done so, you most likely will not be able to appeal the results in the lower court.
The second type of appeal is an appeal to one of Alabama's appellate courts. In a criminal case, the appeal would be first to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and, if a person chose to do so, to the Alabama Supreme Court. Depending on the nature of the case and the grounds the case could proceed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In this type of appeal a higher court will determine whether or not the lower court made correct decisions regarding legal matters presented to it. These courts will not decide facts, and decisions as to what the true facts are are rarely disturbed by a higher court on appeal.
During a criminal appeal, the defendant asks a higher (appellate) court to review and either reverse or modify a lower (trial) court's decision. The party appealing the trial court's decision is the appellant (some jurisdictions prefer to use petitioner). The other party is the appellee (some jurisdictions prefer to use respondent).
When a defendant is found guilty after a trial, they have a right to appeal the verdict. The prosecution, on the other hand, cannot appeal an acquittal. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits double jeopardy, which means you cannot be tried twice for the same criminal allegation. Both the prosecution and the defense, however, can appeal a defendant's sentence and any interim decisions made by a judge, like the admissibility of certain evidence.
Appellate courts are concerned with legal errors. They do not hear evidence or make findings of fact as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. An appellate court examines a trial for any potential errors in terms of procedure, the applied law, and how it was applied.
The appellant files a notice of appeal, and upon filing this notice, the clock starts ticking for the appellant to file a brief. The brief states the facts and the law, explaining why the trial court's decision must be reversed. The appellee has an opportunity to respond with an answering brief. Then, the appellant may respond with a second brief that answers the appellee's brief.
The appellate court may decide based on the written briefs, or they may hear oral arguments.
Grounds for a Criminal Appeal in Alabama
The specific grounds of an appeal will vary from case to case. Ultimately, an appellant must show that the lower court made a substantial or material error during the trial, i.e., one that affected the trial's outcome. A harmless error, even if an error, will not change the outcome of the lower court's decision.
The most common grounds for a criminal appeal in Alabama include but are not limited to sentencing errors, the serious error of law, abuse of discretion, ineffective counsel, improper jury conduct, and prosecutorial misconduct.
Just like everything else in the criminal justice system, there are rules a judge must follow when sentencing a defendant after a conviction. When sentencing rules are ignored, the sentence is considered illegal, and an appellate court will remand the matter back to the lower court for resentencing. Though this type of appeal does not reverse the trial decision's guilty verdict nor allow for a new trial, it often leads to reduced or more favorable sentences.
Serious error of law
A defendant may file an appeal because the trial court made an error in applying the law to the facts. For example, if the judge gave incorrect instructions to the jury on a legal issue or miscalculated the sentence, that may be ground for an appeal.
Abuse of discretion
A trial judge has wide discretion when ruling on pretrial motions and legal issues that arise during a trial. A party can appeal an interim ruling unreasonable, erroneous, arbitrary, or unsupported by the facts or law.
A defendant has a constitutional right to adequate representation during their trial. If a trial lawyer's representation was so poor that it resulted in an unfair trial, this might provide a defendant with the basis for an appeal.
Improper jury conduct
A defendant may appeal their conviction if a juror acted improperly during the trial or deliberations. For example, if a juror speaks directly to a witness, that could be grounds for an appeal.
When prosecutors engage in dishonest or abusive acts to persuade a judge or jury of a defendant's guilt and those abusive acts were prejudicial and harmed the defendant's case, there may be grounds for appeal. Prosecutorial misconduct must be of the nature that even if a judge instructed the jury to disregard the improper act, the jury finds it hard to do, impacting how they decide the case. Examples of prosecutorial misconduct include a prosecutor commenting on inadmissible evidence before the jurors, intentionally misstating what the law says, or appealing to the jury's prejudices.
Possible Outcomes of a Criminal Appeal in Alabama
After considering an appeal, an appellate court's decision may be one of many. The appellate court may:
- Affirm the trial court's decision and uphold the conviction and sentence
- Reverse, or overrule, the trial court's decision
- Remand, or return, the case to the trial court for a full retrial, resentence, or reconsideration of a specific aspect of the trial based on the appellate court's finding
- Modify a sentence
An appellate court can also dismiss an appeal on procedural issues, such as a lack of jurisdiction.
Contact a Criminal Appeals Lawyer in Huntsville and Madison County Today
Criminal appeals involve a highly specialized area of law that has the potential to significantly alter the outcome of the trial court's decision. So, if you are considering appealing the outcome of your criminal trial, it's worth speaking to a criminal appeals attorney in Huntsville and Madison County.
At Segal and Segal, our criminal appeals attorney has the skill and resources to help you file a timely appeal and strategically argue your case. Not only can we provide you with expert advice, but we will also review your trial with fresh eyes to identify all potential grounds for appeal. Contact us today either by filling out the online form or by calling us at (256) 533 - 4529 to schedule a consultation.