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What Is the Appeals Process for a Criminal Conviction in Texas?

If you have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in Texas, your case does not necessarily end with the jury’s verdict. You do have the right to appeal, that is to seek review of the trial court’s judgment with an appellate court. Texas has an unusually complicated court system, so here is a basic overview of how the criminal appeals process works.

Direct Appeals

For example, let’s take a felony case. These are tried in the District Courts. By law, if a defendant is found guilty at trial, he or she has the right to make a direct appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals is not a single body; rather, Texas has 14 separate courts that each have jurisdiction over a particular geographic area of the state.

Now here is where the complexity starts to manifest itself. For Harris and Galveston Counties, there are actually two courts of appeals–the 1st and 14th districts–which exercise concurrent jurisdiction. So if you are convicted in a Houston trial court, your direct appeal will be randomly assigned to either the 1st or 14th District Court of Appeals.

As for the appeal itself, the Court of Appeals will not retry your case. Instead, a panel of three judges will review the record of your previous trial to determine if there were any errors made that ultimately deprived you of your right to a fair trial. For instance, the trial judge may have instructed the jury incorrectly as to the law or permitted the prosecution to introduce evidence that was obtained in an illegal search.

Discretionary Appeals

If the Court of Appeals rules against you–i.e., denies your appeal–you can seek further review with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. But at this stage the appeal is typically discretionary rather than direct. (Only death penalty cases are heard on direct appeal by the Court of Criminal Appeals.) This means the Court of Criminal Appeals must first agree to hear your case. Such permission is rarely granted: According to the most recent figures from the Texas Judiciary, the Court of Criminal Appeals only granted 7 percent of petitions for discretionary review in 2016.

Although Texas has a Supreme Court, its jurisdiction is mostly limited to civil cases. So the Court of Criminal Appeals is the final state court of appeal for criminal matters. The exception to this rule is juvenile offenses, which are considered civil matters in Texas, so the Supreme Court has jurisdiction.

Federal Appeals

If you are tried and convicted of a crime in federal court, there is a separate appeals process. The federal system is actually less complicated than the state appeals process. Direct appeals from all Texas federal district courts are heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans. If you appeal to the Fifth Circuit and lose, you can seek discretionary review with the U.S. Supreme Court. But much like the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court only hears a relative handful of cases each year.

Regardless of whether the case is state or federal, the criminal appeals process can take several months or even years to complete. If you need an experienced Houston and Galveston appellate lawyer to assist you with your case, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.