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Should You Appeal a Criminal Conviction?

Believe it or not, a conviction at trial is not the end of your criminal justice journey. Instead, you likely have a right to appeal your conviction to a higher court in Texas. What does that mean? And is it something you should pursue? Experienced criminal appeals lawyer Tad Nelson explains more below and encourages you to call his office at any time if you have questions.

How an Appeal Works

The criminal justice system makes mistakes. In the U.S., our legal system is dedicated to fixing some of the most obvious or egregious errors so that people have confidence in the system. For that reason, anyone convicted of a Texas crime should have the right to appeal to a higher court. The appellate court then reviews the record to see if the trial was fair.

It’s important to be clear about what an appellate court does—and doesn’t do. For one thing, they only review the transcripts of the trial proceedings. The appellate court does not accept new evidence or have witnesses testify in open court. You don’t get to put on a new defense.

Instead, the appellate court is looking for mistakes the judge made from the moment you were arrested to your conviction. Or they are trying to see if enough evidence exists to support the verdict.

Your lawyer should write a legal brief identifying errors made at trial. Your attorney might also present an oral argument and answer the judges’ questions. The government should also defend the verdict with its own brief.

When Does it Make Sense to Appeal?

The odds of winning an appeal are long. Defendants are most successful in two situations:

1.       The judge made a serious mistake. Maybe the judge let in evidence that was unfairly prejudicial, or he refused to suppress evidence seized without a search warrant. An appellate court would look carefully to see if the judge made some mistake which impacted your trial. Of course, you might still lose even if a mistake occurred. It needs to be a significant error.

2.       The verdict isn’t supported by evidence. This sometimes happens. For example, you might have been convicted of possessing drugs, but the state never entered drugs into evidence. In that case, they haven’t proven all elements of the offense, so you can’t be convicted. The appellate court does not reweigh the evidence or decide between conflicting witness testimony. Instead, they are looking for some evidence—any evidence at all—to support the verdict.

The appellate court might vacate your conviction, which means you could be tried again. If the evidence didn’t support the verdict, then they might acquit you.

Deadlines for Filing an Appeal

There are very tight deadlines for filing a notice of appeal in Texas. Essentially, you get only 30 days from the date the verdict was announced in court. Your trial attorney should file a notice immediately after the verdict is read, just to be safe.

This is not an optional deadline. You need to meet it. Helpfully, if we represent a client at trial, we file a notice of appeal right off.

Your appellate attorney gets 30 days to file the opening brief. If they can’t get it in, they should ask for an extension.

If you lose at appeal, you still haven’t reached the end of the road. You might request review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the highest court in Texas for criminal cases. They usually have discretion to hear appeals, which means they aren’t obligated to accept your request. Usually, they will only accept a case if there’s a new issue of law or if there was a serious mistake made by a court below.

Not every criminal defense lawyer is prepared to handle a criminal appeal. You should hire someone with the research skills necessary to present legal arguments in a compelling way.

Call Us to Discuss a Criminal Matter

Appeals provide an important check on trial judges. Because someone is watching over their shoulder, trial judges work hard to follow the rules. Still, mistakes happen. And when a mistake deprives you of a fair trial, then an appellate court should throw out your conviction.

Contact Tad Nelson to discuss your Galveston or League City case. You should hire us even if you haven’t had a trial yet. We preserve issues at trial so that an appellate court will consider them. We also know how to win cases so that an appeal is never necessary. Remember: the government can’t appeal an acquittal.