When Can You Appeal a Conviction?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 13, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When your criminal case goes south, you may wish to appeal your conviction. But appeals are only likely to be successful in certain circumstances where there has been some sort of mistake or error.

Here are a few situations in which you can certainly appeal your conviction:

1st Appeal Guaranteed

After a conviction resulting from a trial, generally all criminal defendants are guaranteed their first appeals, also known as the "appeal as a matter of right." Appellants are also entitled to an attorney during their first appeal under the Sixth Amendment.

While some states have written this first appeal right into their constitutions or criminal laws, there is arguably no absolute federal constitutional right to a first appeal after a criminal conviction.

Reasons to Appeal

There are many reasons a convict could argue for an appeal. Some of the most common include:

  • The judge made an error. This is the most common reason for most criminal appeals. Judges may make hundreds of small legal rulings during the course of a trial, and many of them may be wrong. However, in order for an appeal to succeed, it must be more than just a harmless error. If a convict argues that a judge erred in making a factual call, the appeals court will typically side with the trial judge in using his or her discretion.
  • Your defense attorney screwed up. On appeal, convicts may argue that their attorneys were so terrible that it led to their convictions. Ineffective assistance of counsel can be grounds for overturning a criminal conviction, but courts often cut lawyers a good deal of slack on these claims.
  • Juror misconduct. Jurors are tasked with being fair and unbiased, and courts can grant appeals based claims that jurors misbehaved -- especially if bribery was involved.
  • Evidence does not support the verdict. This is a near-impossible way to appeal. It requires proving that no reasonable jury could ever reach a guilty verdict based on the evidence presented. Unless there is a gaping hole in the prosecution's case, or the jury gravely misunderstood the law, this is a tough row to hoe.

No matter your reasons for appealing, you'll need a competent criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process.

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