Appeals: What Prisoners And Their Families Need To Know

Prisoners actually have no constitutional right to appeal their conviction, but if you are in prison and unhappy with the outcome of your trial, you can appeal to a higher court. Before you can appeal, however, you must have a legal basis to do so. Depending on the circumstances of your case, if you are found guilty but your case is under appeal, you can remain a free person as the appeals process takes place. The court has to allow you to post an appeals bond. 

What Is An Appeal

If you appeal a court's decision, you are asking a higher court to throw out, or overturn, a lower court's decision. Most of the time, appeals are based on technical errors, which means certain procedures were not followed properly and these errors affected the outcome of the case. 

Courts may make harmless errors, which are those that do not affect the substantial rights of the defendant in a case. You cannot base an appeal on harmless errors. However, if there are structural errors, you may be able to have an automatic appeal. Some structural errors include the following. 

  • Refusing the defendant the right to a lawyer
  • Allowing a biased trial judge to preside over the case
  • Excluding jurors who are the same race as the defendant
  • Denying the defendant the right to a public trial. 

Sentencing errors may also occur. If they do, the prisoner has the right to ask for an appeal to modify his or her sentence. 

You Can File A Writ of Habeas Corpus

While you are imprisoned, you can file a petition known as a writ of habeas corpus along with an appeal. This is an request for judge to review the legality of your incarceration based on specific legal technicalities or procedural violations. The rate of rejection for habeas corpus petitions is high, but if yours is accpeted, you might be released from jail for the violation you're are alleging will be addressed. 

Some courts allow any prisoner to file a writ of habeas corpus, but federal courts may limit a prisoner's right to file them. 

The Appeals Process Is Complicated

An appeals process takes a number of steps. Your criminal appeals lawyer files your appeal and prepares a legal brief to begin the process. The prosecuting attorney responds to this by answering the brief, and your attorney has the option to respond with another brief. Sometime later, the court makes the decision whether to grant your appeal. Whether it is approved or disproved, you will receive the news in writing. 

Because the appeals process is complicated, it is a good idea to hire an appellate attorney to take your case. While your trial lawyer does know your case well, he or she may not have adequate experience working on appeal cases.