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Judges often issue rulings that seem illogical. Prosecutors can be overzealous. Juries can convict innocent people of crimes they did not commit. That’s why, if you are charged with a crime in southern California, you must be defended by an experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyer.

The criminal justice system is far from perfect, but when a judge, a prosecutor, or a jury acts improperly, and when that impropriety results in a wrongful conviction, the system offers a remedy: the appeals process. It’s a second chance for the court system to get justice right.

More than 16,000 criminal convictions were appealed in California courts in 2017. If you believe that you were unjustly convicted of a crime in this state, keep reading. You’ll learn what it takes to get your case into a California appellate court and what it takes to prevail when you get there

WHAT IS AN APPEAL? WHAT IS AN APPELLANT?

Precisely what is an “appeal” in the criminal justice system? An appeal is simply a request for a higher court (an appellate court) to review and overturn the decision of a lower court (the trial court). The “appellant” is the person making the request for an appellate court hearing.

Appeal Veredict

In this state, misdemeanor appeals are heard by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, and felony appeals are considered by the California Court of Appeal. Appeals for federal convictions in California are heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (in San Francisco).

An appeal of a criminal conviction is not a second trial. No new evidence may be introduced, and no witnesses may testify. Instead, the lower court’s conduct is reviewed to determine if any legal errors significantly impaired the defendant’s rights or resulted in a wrongful conviction.

WHAT IS A “FINAL JUDGMENT” IN A CALIFORNIA CRIMINAL CASE?

The appeals process in the state of California requires appellate lawyers to examine and evaluate precise and particular points of fact and/or points of law regarding the original criminal trial and that trial’s “final judgment.”

An appeal of the final judgment in a California criminal case must be based on specific legal grounds and must meet a number of other precise legal requirements. A final judgment is:

  1. a criminal conviction that imposes a jail or prison term on the defendant
  2. a criminal conviction that grants probation to the defendant
  3. a “mentally disordered offender commitment” or an insanity or addiction commitment

WHEN DO YOU HAVE TO INITIATE THE APPEALS PROCESS?

If you appeal the final judgment of a criminal case in this state, you and your attorney must file a “Notice of Appeal” within the first thirty days (for a misdemeanor case) or the first sixty days (in a felony case) after that final judgment is handed down.

You should not wait thirty or sixty days to speak with an appeals attorney about appealing the final judgment in your case. Do it at once. A number of other requirements and deadlines will also have to be satisfied, so you’ll need to launch your appeal as early as possible.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU MISS THE DEADLINE FOR FILING AN APPEAL?

It does not matter if your appeal is persuasive. If you miss this first thirty- or sixty-day deadline, it will be much more difficult to bring an appeal at a later time. Late appeal filings will be considered by California’s appellate courts only for one of these two reasons:

  1. Your trial lawyer neglected one or more of the duties related to your right to an appeal.
  2. You asked prison or jail personnel to mail a Notice of Appeal for you before the deadline, but the appellate court received the notice after the deadline.

If your trial lawyer did not discuss the appeals process and your right to appeal your final judgment, or if you asked your lawyer to file a Notice of Appeal and it was not filed, the appellate court will probably grant an exception to the deadline and hear your appeal.

ON WHAT LEGAL GROUNDS MAY AN APPEAL BE BASED?

Of course, you cannot appeal a final judgment in a criminal case just because you disagree with the verdict or because you think the judge, prosecutor, or jury “had it in for you.” An appeal of a final judgment in a California criminal case must be based upon at least one of these claims:

  1. legal malpractice
  2. evidence mismanagement
  3. invalid evidence
  4. an invalid arrest

EXACTLY WHAT IS “LEGAL” MALPRACTICE?

Legal malpractice is the claim that your own trial attorney failed to represent you in a proper and professional manner and was either incompetent, negligent, or malicious while handling your criminal defense.

Legal Malpractice

If your trial attorney failed to communicate properly with you, failed to investigate adequately the charge against you, did not understand the law, or had a conflict of interest regarding your case, you may have a legitimate claim for legal malpractice and grounds for an appeal.

If any of the evidence that was needed for your defense was lost or was tampered with in any manner, and you were, therefore, unable to introduce that evidence at trial, you have grounds for an appeal.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK TO A CRIMINAL LAWYER ABOUT AN APPEAL?

Similarly, if the evidence that was used to convict you was gathered illegally by the police, or if the police, the prosecutor, or the judge violated your rights at any stage of the legal process, you probably have grounds for an appeal.

However, to be frank, not that many final judgments are overturned by the appellate courts in this state. However, if the grounds for your appeal are genuine and legitimate, you must speak – as early as possible – to an experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyer about the appeals process.

The rules that govern the California appeals process differ considerably from the guidelines for criminal trials.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN AN APPEAL IN CALIFORNIA?

Thus, to prevail with the appeal of a final judgment in the California criminal justice system, you must be represented by an attorney who has abundant appeals experience, who pays attention to details, and who is personally committed to bringing every case to its best possible conclusion.

Nobody’s perfect. Judges and attorneys make mistakes like everyone else. That’s why the appeals process is an essential part of the criminal justice system.

If you are convicted of any felony or misdemeanor in California, talk with a defense attorney to determine if you have grounds to file an appeal. At every stage of the criminal justice process, a good defense lawyer’s help is your right.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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