If the trial did not go as you planned and you ended up convicted of a crime, chances are you are confused and perhaps even angry about the outcome. Maybe you blame your attorney, or you feel the judge was against you from the beginning. Perhaps you know one of the witnesses lied on the stand, or you may remember some new detail that you plan to introduce in your appeal.
Unfortunately, like many, you may have a misunderstanding about what the appeals process means. An appeal is not a retrial of your case. In fact, the justice system in Georgia and throughout the country prefers to let court rulings stand. This is why your appeal has a very limited scope of examination.
Ground for appeal
To begin with, your appeal will not take place in front of a jury or even a judge. Instead a panel of judges will review your case to determine whether the lower court made any legal mistakes that led to a wrongful conviction. All trials have some mistakes, but the appellate process decides whether those mistakes violated your rights in such as way as to bring about your conviction. The four types of errors that warrant an appeal include the following:
- Error of law: This is called a plain error, and such mistakes often meet with objection during trial. However, if your attorney did not object, you may have grounds to appeal.
- Insufficient evidence: Evidence is a critical part of your conviction, and the judge may have made a mistake when allowing or disallowing certain evidence in the trial.
- Judge's errors: Abuse of discretion by a judge means that he or she made rulings that had no basis in law or the facts of your case. Judges have some freedom to make rulings, but never to overstep the law.
- Inadequate defense: If your attorney committed egregious mistakes to the point where your trial was unfair, you may have grounds to appeal.
An appeals court will not review the evidence in your case or examine additional evidence you may wish to present. No new witnesses will testify. Instead, the judges will carefully review the court transcripts and read the brief you attorney submits describing the grounds for appeal. It is a long process, and you will have to have a strong case for success. You can begin by meeting with an attorney who has experience in the appellate courts.