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How do appeals work?

| Jul 10, 2020 | Blog |

Any system involving humans has the potential to contain errors, and the criminal justice system is no exception. In the case of an appeal, the type of error made is significant. The court makes a distinction between a harmless error and a reversible error. The former does not warrant the reversal of the lower court’s judgment, but the latter is substantial enough to warrant a reversal on appeal.

A person who files an appeal needs to show the higher court that a reversible error occurred during the trial in either the conviction or the sentencing. He or she is asking for a review of the previous trial rather than asking for a new trial with new evidence.

Appeal grounds

An appeal may claim that a person’s counsel offered ineffective assistance and thereby violated the right to adequate representation under the Sixth Amendment. It could also allege that the weight of the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. Another argument is that in making its ruling, the lower court abused its discretion. Finally, the appeal may contend that the lower court’s decision involved a serious error of law.

Initial steps

The first step in the filing process is to file the notice of appeal. The attorney must send this notification in a timely manner to the court that made the judgment against the person. In Colorado, they have 35 days after the judgment to file a criminal appeal and 49 days to file a civil appeal.

The next step is to file the appellate brief. This document explains what aspects of the lower court’s ruling allegedly were wrong, and as evidence of the error, it cites the trial transcript.

Possible outcomes

After analyzing the arguments, the court issues a ruling. In Colorado, a panel of three judges comprises the court. The judges may affirm the lower court’s decision. Alternatively, they might make a modification to the lower court’s ruling or give the order for a new trial. The panel could also direct the lower court to take new evidence or facts into consideration. Although it is rare, the judges may throw the case out. Following the verdict, appealing this decision to a higher court again remains an option.