The Essentials of the Appellant’s Brief
Posted on Friday, October 18th, 2019 at 6:34 am
After a criminal conviction, you don’t have to give up. You have the right to appeal the judgment, and if successful, you may get your conviction overturned. But, keep in mind that the appeals process is difficult, and many who attempt it on their own fail–or miss critical deadlines. An appeal is not a new trial. You don’t present new evidence, the judges don’t hear testimony, and they don’t retry the case. Instead, the judges are there only to decide if some legal error occurred and if that legal error resulted in your unjust conviction or sentence.
For these reasons, you should seek the assistance of an experienced appellate lawyer. Reviewing trial transcripts, searching for potential errors, researching legal technicalities, and writing a convincing brief are skills best gained through consistent appeals experience. At Spolin Law P.C., our track record of success in the appeals process speaks for itself.
Call us today at (310) 424-5816 to schedule your consultation.
An Appellant’s Brief Must Show Harm by Error
At your trial, you were the defendant. But when you appeal your case, you become the appellant. The state becomes the respondent.
As the appellant, you are responsible for showing that your conviction or sentencing was negatively affected by a legal error, either during or before your trial. Your appeals lawyer will write a brief on your behalf to convince the appeals court that your trial was unfair.
The appellant’s brief must be thoroughly researched, clearly written, and meticulously presented. It should give the appellate court an overview of the case, single out the issues that harmed you, and provide reasons why these issues amounted to legal error.
Common grounds for appealing a criminal conviction include:
- The judge allowed the jury to hear evidence that it should not have
- The judge wrongly denied a pretrial motion to suppress evidence or to dismiss the charges
- The judge did not follow the sentencing guidelines or abused their discretion
- The jury considered factors other than those presented in reaching their verdict
- The jury convicted you even though the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime
- The jury engaged in misconduct during the trial or its deliberations
- The defense lawyer provided ineffective counsel
- The prosecutor acted unethically, such as hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense
If one of these errors applies to your case, but you can’t prove that it was prejudicial to you, the court will consider it a harmless error and deny your appeal. For example, you can’t get your conviction overturned just because the judge wrongly allowed one small piece of evidence into the case. You would need to show that this evidence was crucial to the jury’s decision to find you guilty.
The state, or respondent, will file their own brief to attack the arguments your lawyer raised in the appellant brief. Your lawyer has the option of filing a reply brief to address the respondent’s arguments. After an oral argument, where your lawyer and a lawyer for the state will answer questions from the appeals judges, the court will hand down a decision.
If the court grants your appeal, they may reverse the conviction, order a new trial, or schedule a new sentencing hearing. If the appeals court decides against you, you may still appeal to the California Supreme Court. But only cases that present novel or significant issues of law generally make it onto the Supreme Court’s docket.
A Southern California Appeals Lawyer Can Help
If you or a loved one have been unfairly convicted of a crime, it is time to consult with an appeals lawyer. But time is of the essence because you generally cannot file an appeal more than 60 days after the judgment.