Let’s face it. Our criminal justice system doesn’t always work as it should. Our criminal justice system is meant to ensure that only the guilty go to prison. But all systems fail from time to time. And all good systems have safeguards in place for when they do. That is why we have a system of criminal appeals that kicks in after a criminal conviction.
If you or a loved one are thinking about the need for an appeal in a criminal trial, it may be that you already know that things are not going well in the criminal proceeding. Criminal appeals are a right, but a right that you may have to claim quickly after a conviction. Here are some things you might want to know about criminal appeals and how they are handled in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Appellate Law And Appellate Courts
Appeals or appellate law is the process of taking the ruling in a lower court to a higher court and asking the higher court to look at the proceeding in the lower court. This is most often done because there is a mistake that occurred in the lower court that led to a conviction or to an unfair sentence.
The higher court makes a ruling on whether there was a mistake made and whether that mistake caused a prejudicial decision in the lower court. When such a mistake is found, the higher court often sends the case back down to the lower court to retry the case and correct the mistake.
In Oklahoma, the trial court is called the district court. The appellate court is called the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Criminal appeals can be filed in either the appropriate state court or the appeal is made to federal court. There are separate rules and procedures for each court system. And there may be reasons why you might file in one court over another.
Drafting appeals and an appellate plan is complex and requires intricate knowledge of the appellate process. It is always better to have an experienced Stillwater OK attorney handle an appeal rather than handling it yourself.
Most often, in a criminal matter, the appeal is made to the Oklahoma Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals may find a mistake and send the case back down to the district court for a retrial. If the Court of Appeals finds no significant error, then the conviction stands.
However, if the criminal matter involves a federal issue, the defendant may petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The U.S. Supreme Court may rule on the federal issues involved, but not on the state issues involved.
State Court Direct Criminal Appeals
Direct appeals are the most common type of criminal appeal filed. Appeals to the Court of Appeals focus on errors of procedure in the district court. Were there mistakes made and did those mistakes result in an unfair conviction or sentence?
A direct appeal looks closely at everything that happened during the trial to answer these questions. Skilled attorneys look at the transcript of everything that was said and done during the trial to see what mistakes were made.
Once mistakes are identified, the mistakes must be evaluated to determine if they are serious enough to warrant a new trial. If the mistake is “harmless,” it is not sufficient grounds for appeal. This takes a great deal of legal research and the careful crafting of a defendant’s appellate brief.
These appeals must be prepared and filed quickly after a conviction. Within 10 days of the formal sentencing, a Notice of Intent to Appeal, Designation of the Record, and Advisory Propositions of Error must be filed with the trial court.
Grounds For Direct Appeal
The error is the ground or grounds, if there are multiple errors, upon which the appeal is based. These errors come in various basic types.
Judicial Error: These are mistakes that the judge makes during the trial. This could be an error in allowing evidence that should have been excluded or excluding evidence that should have been admitted. The mistake can be giving the wrong jury instructions. It can be the improper exclusion of potential jurors for cause.
Misconduct: Problems with misconduct usually occur either in the jury or in the prosecutor’s handling of the case. Jury misconduct can take the form of accepting a bribe to vote in a certain way or taking intoxicating substances while acting as a juror. It can also take the form of discussing the case with an outsider when the jury is admonished not to do so.
Prosecutorial misconduct often happens when a prosecutor goes to extraordinary — and illegal lengths to win a case. This can take the form of withholding evidence from the defense that it should turn over, falsifying the evidence, or relying on evidence that the prosecutor knows is false.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: These are mistakes that the trial defense counsel makes during the course of the criminal trial. This is one reason you want to hire a separate attorney to handle the appeals process. Trial counsel mistakes can include an attorney’s failure to make proper objections or the attorney’s failure to properly investigate the case or include witnesses or evidence that might have exonerated the defendant.
New Evidence: When new evidence is found, such as DNA evidence, that new evidence can sometimes give rise to a new trial.
In Oklahoma, there is another type of appeals process in the state court. If a direct appeal is denied, you still have options for post-conviction relief. This step is critical in continuing the appeals process. You must exhaust all state remedies before filing Habeas Corpus at the federal level.
This appeal is filed with the Oklahoma District Court. You can bring this type of appeal when:
- the conviction or the sentence was in violation of the state or federal Constitution;
- the court that convicted you was without jurisdiction to impose sentence;
- the sentence exceeds the maximum authorized by law;
- there are material facts that were not presented or heard in the trial and that requires the vacation of the conviction or sentence in the interest of justice;
- the defendant remains incarcerated once their sentence, probation, or parole has expired, their conditional release has been unlawfully revoked, or they are otherwise unlawfully held in custody or other restraint; or
- the conviction or sentence is subject to collateral attack upon any ground of alleged error available under any common law, statutory or another writ, motion, petition, proceeding, or remedy.
Okla. Stat. tit. 22 § 1080
There are other types of relief that may be available to you post-conviction. All matters and routes of relief on appeal should be discussed with your Stillwater criminal appeals attorney as part of a comprehensive appeals plan. Get the help you need to fight your conviction today.
Free Consultation With A Stillwater Criminal Appeals Attorney
A Stillwater criminal appeals attorney who can assess your legal matters is just a phone call away. Your first phone consultation is always free at Wirth Law Office in Stillwater: 405-673-1600.
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Whatever your legal needs, an assistant can direct you to a Stillwater OK attorney or to Oklahoma attorneys in another location. Try Wirth Law Office first to save time and be connected with the best Stillwater lawyers to handle your matter.