The Purpose of Appeals
Appeals cost the justice system (and the tax payer) extra money, take up judges' hard-pressed time, and review much of the same information as in the lower-court trial. Why, then, are appeals are part of the California legal system?
The answer is because it is worth the extra time, money, and effort to ensure that justice has truly been done in cases where judges/juries may have "made a bad call," where prosecutors used unethical methods, or where defense lawyers acted incompetently.
This built-in "second chance" is a safety guard to help detect faulty lower-court rulings and ensure that no one is convicted or sentenced in an unfair or illegal manner.
What Do Appellate Courts in California Do?
Technically, an appeal is not a "new trial," but it is a "limited review" of a lower-court conviction by an California state appellate court.
If accepted for appeal, your case is not "re-tried," nor is new evidence allowed, nor is any new testimony presented. But the higher court simply reviews the process and ruling to see if any "legal errors" occurred that would likely have "substantially affected" the outcome of the case or that violated the rights of either defendant or plaintiff.
California Superior (Appellate) Courts are divided into separate courts for misdemeanor versus for felony conviction appeals.
The Appeals Process
Upon conviction at a trial court, you have the right to file an appeal, if you wish. The "Notice of Appeal" must be filed within thirty (or sometimes up to sixty) days of the conviction.
Whatever the time limit is for filing the appeal, understand that it will be very strictly enforced. That's why you need a defense lawyer who is already familiar with the appeal-filing process, so there won't be any unnecessary delays or any mistakes made in filing the paperwork.
Note that appeals can only be filed following a "final judgement." That can mean the issuance of a sentence requiring prison time under California's Three Strikes Law, that grants probation, that requires rehab classes for a drug/alcohol addiction, or that involves institutionalization for a mental handicap.
It is often best to file a general notice of appeal since this does not immediately lock you in on the particular reasons for asking for an appeal. The exact problems and issues can be brought up later in the process.
However, you do have to declare in the notice of appeal whether you are challenging a sentencing issue or something else. For example, no contest pleas can be challenged as can alleged probation violations. Additionally, the appeal would have to specify if it was filed in regard to an alleged illegal search/seizure (under the 4th Amendment.)
Finally, note that if you plead "guilty," an appeal will be very limited in scope, only applying to the validity of the plea or to a claim the court you were tried at lacked proper jurisdiction.
Certificates of Probable Cause
Many times, a "certificate of probable cause" is required before you can appeal you case. This document is meant to curb an abundance of "frivolous" appeal attempts that would bog down the system.
The certificate is needed to appeal a felony conviction in which a "guilty" plea was entered or wherein a 4th Amendment issue exists. It is not necessary in misdemeanor or juvenile-court appeals. In the case of crimes where the death penalty is sentenced, appeal is automatic and no certificate or notice of appeal will be needed.
Certificates of probable cause must identify a "reasonable" basis upon which the appeal is being made.
After the appeal has been submitted to the court, it will be reviewed and either granted or denied with twenty days.
Exceptions for Late Notices of Appeals
Felonies must be appealed within sixty days of final judgment and misdemeanors within thirty days. And while the court is rather strict on these time limits, there are certain situations where "relief" may be granted to allow a late notice of appeal.
The first reason a late appeal may be allowed is if the trial-court lawyer did not act on his/her duties relative to filing an appeal, which then made it impossible to file within the designated window of time.
It may be the lower-court defense attorney did not properly advise you that you had a right to appeal. Or, it may be he/she did not advise you correctly on whether or not your case had any "arguable reasonable" basis for an appeal. Or, it may simply be that despite giving such advice, your attorney failed to actually take action to file a notice of appeal in a timely manner.
Finally, you can request relief to file an appeal "late" based on the trial-court judge failing to inform you of your right to appeal.
A second major reason for a late filing of an appeal being allowed is called "constructive filing." This applies when an inmate informs the proper prison/jail personnel of his/her decision to appeal before the deadline but that request and attendant paperwork are not actually received by the court until after the deadline. It can also apply when those representing inadvertently file with the wrong court.
Besides mail arrival issues, "constructive filing" can also apply if a jail guard or some other official gives you false or misleading information that delayed your exercising your right to file an appeal request.
Can I Get Out on Bail During the Appeal Process?
It varies whether or not you can get out on bail when your case is being appealed. For misdemeanor crimes, it is a matter of right, so there's no problem there. But for felonies, the decision is made by the trial-court that convicted you.
To gain bail, you have to make a motion for bail in the trial-court. Since that is the court that sent you to jail, it isn't uncommon for that motion to be denied. If it is denied, however, you can appeal that bail denial to the appellate court and argue the bail denial was "unjustifiable."
Despite the fact bail release on a felony appeal is discretionary, there are basic standards that are usually followed. If you are deemed unlikely to flee justice, and not considered a danger to another person or to your local community, and if your appeal is clearly being done to try for a reversed decision based on genuine legal matters (versus just a delay tactic), you will most likely be approved for bail release.
Preparing for Appellate Court Proceedings
The trial court will prepare multiple transcripts that will be used in the appellate proceedings. We at Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys know how to review and verify all transcripts to make sure nothing is missing that might negatively affect your appeal.
Next, we will attempt to contact and meet with the trial-court lawyer who handled your case. Sometimes these sorts of meetings can be awkward or your previous lawyer may not even agree to meet. But it's best to gain all information possible from all sources, including from your previous attorney, even if he/she did not handle your case well (and that's why you now need to appeal.)
We will also review the trial-court file on your case and scrutinize the evidence, testimony, and motions that appear on the court record. Review of pre-trial motions is often especially helpful in identifying grounds for the appeal.
Briefs and Arguments at the Appeal
Our first chance to present to the appellate court the justification for the appeal is at the opening brief. Even though the term "brief" might suggest to some a quick presentation, in fact, these proceedings are normally very long and drawn-out. It is possible to win here at the very outset and get a reversed sentence, lowered sentence, or a new trial.
The facts of the case and proceedings in the lower-court will be examined in detail, and we will have opportunity to point out any arguable grounds for appellate "relief" to the court. A "Wende brief" can be filed if no issues of merit were identified, to avoid the charge of filing a frivolous appeal; but that is a last-ditch escape route that we always seek to avoid.
After we present our brief on the alleged merits of your appeal, the prosecution will counter with their "respondent's brief." However, if the prosecution appealed the case because they lost at trial-court or are seeking a stricter sentence, then they would brief first and we would present our brief in your behalf second.
If you are appealing your case, the burden of proof is on you and your attorney to show why the appeal is appropriate. In the interests of doing that, we can present a "reply brief" to the prosecution's brief. We cannot raise new issues in a reply brief but only respond to what was said by the prosecution in the respondent brief. We can file a reply brief up to twenty days after the respondent's brief.
The Oral Argument
After the rather drawn out process of briefs and counter-briefs, we will finally have the chance to argue your appeal case in the actual court room. This is a key moment, but only minimal time is allowed. In the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, ten minutes of oral argumentation is permitted. In the Court of Appeal, thirty minutes is allowed.
The oral argument requires skilled, succinct presentation of all key facts found in your briefs and related to your appeal. We at Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys are well seasoned at this crucial stage of the appeal process. We will answer any questions the judges pose to us and ensure they understand the merits of the relief we are seeking in your behalf.
Petitions for Rehearing or Review
It is possible even after an unfavorable appellate court ruling to petition for a rehearing, if the petition is filed within fifteen days of the decision. In most cases, there is no need for the opposing side to file a response, but the court may request them to in certain instances.
A petition for review, filed with California's Supreme Court, is also a possible option. Both sides can file such a petition. It is also possible for the Supreme Court to decide on its own accord, without being petitioned, to review an appellate decision. A petition for review must be filed within ten days of the appellate court's decision.
Contact Us Today For Assistance
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have a full-orbed understanding of California's complex appeals process, based on years of in depth, hands-on experience in defending clients in Long Beach and Southern California.
We are fully familiar with all of the scenarios wherein a case can be legally appealed and can likely win a more favorable outcome than the original trial.
Contact us 24/7/365 at (562) 308-7807 and we will be happy to give you a free, no-obligation consultation. Or, if you feel more comfortable with an in-person face-to-face consultation, call to schedule an appointment at our office located in Long Beach, CA.