Most people don’t realize this, but being convicted is not actually the end of the court process. And your fate is not necessarily sealed based on what the jury and judge decide during your trial. If your court case was not handled absolutely perfectly, then there’s a good chance you can try to overturn the verdict with an appeal. The appeals process was designed to protect defendants in situations where the court system has somehow been unfair. And because human mistakes and unacknowledged biases happen all the time, appeals are very common and can successfully result in your conviction — and possibly the entire criminal charge — thrown out.
Of course, to successfully appeal, first you need strong grounds for appeal. Unlike the trial, an appeal isn’t based on the facts of the case or even whether or not you committed the crime. An appeal’s sole purpose is to determine if the justice system mishandled your case according to their own rules. An argument that your trial was unfair or poorly conducted is called Grounds for Appeal.
Let’s take a look at the most common grounds for appeal what your Minneapolis appeals lawyer might argue. By understanding these grounds, you will be in a better position to assess if you can build a strong appeal.
In order for a criminal charge to be prosecuted in court, first the police need to have lawfully arrested the defendant and lawfully gathered evidence to support proof of the criminal charge. However, if the arrest was not conducted properly, there is a chance that the entire charge (and therefore, the conviction) will be thrown out.
This is why false arrest is the first grounds for appeal. Remember, in appeals court the question is not whether or not you committed the crime. Merely if your case was processed fairly. If the police had no plausible reason to stop or arrest you, or if they mishandled the arrest in some critical way, your entire case may be rendered invalid.
An example of this would be if a police officer pulled you over for driving away from a bar after-hours, though you were driving perfectly safely with your lights on, tags updated, and tail-lights intact. Because they had no real cause to pull you over, any arrest is a false arrest and any resulting charge was unlawfully reached.
Incorrect Jury Instruction
Jury instruction is when the judge tells the jury how to think about the case. It is a judges job to make sure the jury understands the law and their duty to make a lawful decision based on the standards of the court and crime in question. The judge also tells the jury when something a lawyer or witness says that should be ignored, like when unapproved evidence is mentioned without permission or when the prosecution paints a picture of the scene that does not necessarily match the evidence.
If your appeals lawyer can prove that the jury was not instructed to ignore unacceptable evidence, or was given instruction that did not fit the nature of your case, then the verdict the jury reaches will then be thrown out. This can either result in an overturning of a guilty verdict or the declaration of a mistrial, meaning you start over again with a new jury.
The evidence in a criminal case is very important. The legal system is not supposed to convict if there is reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. Without specific evidence linking you to the crime at hand, you may be able to argue that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to draw any concrete conclusions.
If, for example, you happen to be wearing the same college hoodie as the witnessed perpetrator. And you happened to be in the same area. But there was no concrete evidence like DNA, fingerprints, or dropped personal items that link you to the crime. It’s not always enough to convince a jury that the defendant -could- have committed the crime. Your attorney may be able to prove that -legally- there was insufficient evidence to stick you with a conviction. Even if the jury was convinced during the trial.
Improper or Excluded Evidence
If you’re not a fan of legal drama TV shows, you may not be aware that what evidence can be included in the trial is a big decision-making process. The prosecution will try to include evidence that makes you look guilty (even if it’s only circumstantial) and exclude evidence that might support your alibi.
This is legal when done correctly, with each piece of evidence being approved by the judge as relevant and worthwhile to the case. However, if key evidence that could prove your innocence was excluded or even hidden from the first trial, then this would qualify you for an excluded evidence appeal. And if evidence was included that wasn’t relevant proof or evidence that’s only purpose was to make you look bad, this qualifies for an improper evidence appeal.
Sentencing is complicated. Judges don’t actually have absolute control to decide how you are sentenced, simply discretion within the existing law. For each crime there are minimums and maximums for the amount of jail time, fines, community service, or court-mandated activities that they can assign to you. And a lot of factors come into play. Repeated offenses and past crimes (or lack thereof) will influence how you can be sentenced, as can the location where your crime took place, the court you’re being tried in, and the specific details of the charge the prosecution chose to level.
If you are sentenced incorrectly, with an amount of jail time, fines, or assigned activities that do not conform with the law, that unlawful sentence can be overturned on appeal.
There are also some very specific rules for what jurors can and cannot do while they are weighing in on a trial. They are not allowed to discuss the case with non-jurors. They are not allowed to bring in information about the case that is not presented in court (like judging from news stories instead of the evidence) and they are not allowed to make their decision based on a personal bias like racism, agism, or religious prejudices.
Jurors must share any information they have that might make them biased or somehow connected to the case. They are also not allowed to abuse drugs or alcohol during a jury trial. If even one of your jurors was out of line, or if one juror tainted the entire jury with outside information, you can appeal based on jury misconduct.
The conduct of your prosecutors also matters a great deal. A prosecutor’s job, officially, is to identify guilty people and prove that they are guilty in court. But prosecutors are human like everyone else, and sometimes they want to “Get a Win” even if the evidence isn’t strong or they have to bend a few rules. This is where unethical prosecution comes into play.
A prosecutor, for example, a prosecutor might try to bias the jury by appealing to emotions or shared societal biases instead of leaning on the facts. Or they might intentionally misstate the law to lead the jury to conclude that a greater crime was committed. They might misrepresent the facts, try to introduce unaccepted evidence, or even hide evidence that could exonerate you.
But for these actions to qualify for an appeal, you must also prove that the judge missed, ignored, or failed to correct these acts of prosecutorial misconduct during the trial.
Finally, if your lawyer during the trial was not up to the task, you may be able to argue that you were represented by ineffective counsel. Every person has a right to capable representation and defense in the court system. While you can’t request an appeal on the grounds that your attorney lost, you can appeal if your attorney failed in their basic duties to protect your legal rights in the courtroom.
Examples of ineffective counsel would include failing to object when the prosecution crosses a line (introducing bad evidence, influencing the jury, etc) or failing to file for a mistrial in the face of obvious juror or prosecutorial misconduct. In these cases, you are well within your rights to seek a new appeals lawyer and argue that your counsel was ineffective during the initial trial.
Being convicted in trial is not necessarily the end of your story. If something was mishandled from your arrest to your legal representation, there’s a good chance that you can build a strong case for appeal and possibly even overturn the entire case. If you’re looking for an experienced appeals lawyer to help appeal your conviction, contact us today! Our legal team is ready to consult and offer the guidance you need.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.