The Basis for a Criminal Appeal
For an appellate court to hear an appeal from a lower court, the defendant
or litigant must show to the court that an error had occurred at the trial
level. The error needs to be significant or material.
The four basic grounds for appeal include:
- The lower court committed a serious error of law, also known as “plain
- The weight of the evidence doesn’t support the verdict
- The lower court abused its discretion in making an incorrect ruling
- Ineffective Assistance of Counsel according to the Sixth Amendment
On the other hand, errors which are unlikely to make a substantial impact
on the result at trial are not enough grounds for reversing the judgment
of a lower court. Any error, irregularity, defect, or variance that doesn’t
affect a defendant or litigant’s rights are considered harmless.
Plain error is defined as a defect or mistake which affects the defendant’s
substantial rights, although the parties did not address this error during
trial. A successful appeal of a criminal conviction, as well as for overturning
other court verdicts, can be formed on the basis of plain error.
Insufficient Weight of Evidence
This ground for appeal is much more difficult to succeed. While the appellate
courts thoroughly review the transcripts of trials, they often never hear
any testimony from witnesses, view the presentation of evidence, or hear
each party’s opening and closing arguments. However, with DNA evidence
readily available, appellate lawyers can now reveal situations when a
judge improperly allowed or disallowed evidence into trials where adequate
admission of evidence and testimony would have resulted in different decisions.
Abuse of Discretion
Judges make rulings throughout a criminal case, allowing them to have a
wide range of discretion. However, if an appellate court discovers that
a judge abused this discretion, it means the ruling was not supported
by the facts or law in the case and their use of discretion was arbitrary,
erroneous, and unreasonable.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
This means that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to proper representation
and to a fair trial has been violated. The appellate court must determine
that the defendant’s attorney’s conduct undermined the functions
of the judicial process, resulting in a wrong verdict. However, if the
lawyer was proven to be ineffective – such as being asleep during
the trial – the conviction may stand if his failures alone did not
create an unfair trial.
For more information, contact our experienced legal team at South Shore
Criminal Defense today.