Do I need to File an Appeal?
On a daily basis, I receive calls from people who want to file an appeal because the finding of
guilty “was wrong.” While this is certainly a valid reason to appeal, it typically is not the only
argument available or even the best argument. Before trial, a defendant is presumed innocent but after a finding of guilty, that same defendant is presumed guilty and all reasonable inferences from the evidence go against the defendant. Aside from that, an appellate court won’t overturn credibility determinations that were made of the witnesses at trial. Additionally, on appeal no new evidence or witness testimony can be presented like you could in the trial court. However, as the saying goes, “where there is smoke, there usually is fire.” In fact, more times than not when someone feels that the verdict was wrong he or she is usually right and invariably a thorough review of the record uncovers due process violations, trial errors, and other errors that resulted in an unfair or partial trial.
The errors that can occur at trial are extensive and to a non-appellate attorney the errors may
even seem trivial. Evidence that was not relevant or prejudicial could have been admitted at
trial when it should have been excluded, the judge or the prosecutor could have said something that should not have been said to the jury, the instructions to the jury could have been improper; the answers to the juries questions could have been wrong; or the defendant’s right to a fair and speedy trial could have been violated. Those are just a few appealable issues that can result in a new trial but a whole host of other reversible errors that could have occurred before or after the trial may have also occurred. Success at trial may depend upon what evidence is admitted and what evidence gets excluded. These judicial rulings can occur during trial or before trial; however, regardless of when they occurred they can be grounds for winning on appeal. Even the objections that the judge overruled or sustained during the trial can be reasons for the reviewing court to grant a new trial.
Knowing what errors occurred at trial only comes from experience and a thorough
understanding of criminal law, constitutional law, criminal procedure, and the rules of
evidence. Ultimately, the purpose of a direct appeal is to ensure that the defendant received a
fair trial that comported with due process. Even in situations where the record on appeal was
not preserved which would typically cause the argument to be waived, an appellate court will
consider the waived argument if it resulted in an innocent person being found guilty or if the
error violated due process and resulted in an unfair trial that offends the notions of fairness
and justice. Unfortunately, many errors that occur at trial are the direct result of being
represented by a defense attorney who made mistakes and provided ineffective assistance.