Felony Appeals in California

If you or a loved one has been convicted of a felony, you may be panicking. You know the consequences of a criminal conviction can be devastating, including prison time, financial hardship, and an uncertain future. And, the criminal justice system can be hard to navigate alone. You may be wondering whether it’s worth pursuing a criminal appeal.

But, this doesn’t have to be the end of the road. Call Gressley and Donaldson today. We can help you evaluate your options and determine if you have grounds for an appeal.

What is a Felony Appeal?

Criminal appeals can be broken down into two types: misdemeanor and felony appeals. When an individual is convicted of a felony in California and believes that an error occurred during their trial or sentencing, they have the right to pursue a felony appeal. A felony appeal allows the defendant to challenge the decision of the trial court and seek a review of their case by a higher court. This process is crucial for ensuring justice and fairness in the legal system.

In California, like in all states, the court system is hierarchical. There’s not just one court. You start from the lower courts and as you appeal, you move to the higher courts:

  1. Superior Courts:

At the foundation of California’s judicial system are the Superior Courts (like district courts in other states). There is a superior court in each of California’s 58 counties, and they serve as the trial courts of general jurisdiction. Superior courts handle a diverse range of cases, including criminal, civil, family, probate, and juvenile matters. Judges in these courts preside over trials, rule on motions, and make legal determinations. They are where most legal disputes are initially filed and resolved, either through trials or settlements.

In addition to superior courts, California also has specialized courts designed to address specific types of cases or populations. These specialized courts include Family Law Courts (handling divorce and family-related matters), Probate Courts (overseeing distribution of deceased individuals’ assets and conservatorships), Juvenile Courts (dealing with cases involving minors), Drug Courts (offering treatment and rehabilitation programs for substance abuse cases), and Mental Health Courts (focusing on cases involving individuals with mental health issues). These courts provide tailored services and interventions to address the unique needs of their respective caseloads.

  1. Courts of Appeal:

The next level in the hierarchy is the Courts of Appeal. California is divided into six appellate districts, each with its own Court of Appeal. These courts primarily hear appeals from superior courts and other lower tribunals. Their role is to review cases to ensure that the law was correctly applied and that legal errors did not occur during the trial process. The Courts of Appeal play a crucial role in shaping legal precedent and clarifying legal issues within the state.

  1. California Supreme Court:

At the pinnacle of California’s judicial system stands the California Supreme Court. As the highest court in the state, it has the authority to review and decide on cases involving important legal questions and constitutional issues. While the California Supreme Court primarily hears cases on appeal from lower appellate courts, it also has original jurisdiction over specific matters, such as certain attorney discipline cases. The court consists of seven justices who serve 12-year terms. Its decisions carry significant weight and have a profound impact on legal precedent throughout the state.

This hierarchical structure ensures that cases progress through the appropriate levels of the judicial system, with decisions made at higher levels providing guidance and precedent for lower courts. It promotes a fair, efficient, and consistent legal framework across California.

The Right To Appeal

Every defendant in California has the right to appeal their felony conviction. The appellate court reviews the record of the trial court proceedings, considers the legal arguments presented by both sides, and determines whether any legal errors were made that significantly affected the outcome of the case.

What are the Grounds for a Felony Appeal?

Before pursuing a felony appeal, it’s essential to understand the valid grounds on which such an appeal can be based. Common grounds that may warrant a felony appeal in California include:

Legal Errors: Errors made by the judge in interpreting or applying the law during the trial, such as incorrect jury instructions or improper admission or rejection of evidence. For example, the judge may have allowed the prosecution to use evidence that was improperly obtained, leading to your conviction.

Insufficient Evidence: If the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to justify the verdict, this can be a basis for appeal.

Prosecutorial Misconduct: Actions by the prosecutor that unfairly prejudice the defendant’s right to a fair trial, such as improper remarks during closing arguments or presenting false evidence.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: A defendant can appeal on the basis that their attorney’s performance was so poor that it denied them a fair trial.

Jury Misconduct: Appeals can be based on misconduct by jurors, such as using outside information to influence the verdict or failing to disclose biases during jury selection.

Sentencing Errors: If a judge issues a sentence that does not comply with legal guidelines, or if there is an error in calculating the sentence, this can be a ground for appealing the conviction.

The Felony Appeals Process in California

The felony appeals process in California follows a structured series of steps. Understanding these steps is crucial for anyone considering challenging their felony conviction. Here is an outline of the felony appeals process:

Step 1: File a Notice of Appeal

The first step in appealing a felony conviction is to file a Notice of Appeal with the trial court, typically at the courthouse where the defendant was sentenced. This document officially informs the court and the opposing party of the intent to appeal.

Step 2: Obtain the Record on Appeal

After filing the Notice of Appeal, the next step is to obtain the Record on Appeal. This includes gathering the trial court transcripts and any other relevant documents from the lower court proceedings.

Step 3: Submit Briefs

The appellant (the person appealing) is required to submit briefs to the appellate court. These briefs outline the arguments for why the conviction should be overturned, pointing out legal errors, issues with evidence, or other procedural problems that occurred during the trial. The prosecution will also submit a brief in response.

Step 4: Present Oral Arguments

In some cases, oral arguments may be held in front of the appellate court. These arguments allow both sides to present their case in person, although they are not as common in felony appeals.

Step 5: Receive the Court’s Decision

After reviewing the case, the appellate court will issue a decision. The court may affirm the conviction, reverse it, or remand the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Step 6: Seek Further Review

If either party is dissatisfied with the appellate court’s decision, they may seek further review by a higher court, such as the California Supreme Court.

What are the Possible Outcomes of a Felony Appeal?

The possible outcomes of a felony appeal in California can vary, including:

Affirmation: The appellate court upholds the conviction, and the defendant’s sentence remains unchanged.

Reversal: The appellate court overturns the conviction, and the defendant is no longer considered guilty of the felony.

Remand: The case is sent back to the trial court for further proceedings, which may include a new trial or resentencing.

What if My Felony Appeal is Unsuccessful?

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If a felony appeal is unsuccessful, and the conviction is affirmed, the defendant will generally continue to serve their sentence as initially imposed. However, all legal options may not be exhausted, and further avenues for relief, such as habeas corpus petitions or clemency requests, may be explored.

Pursuing a felony appeal in California is a fundamental right that ensures individuals have access to a fair legal process. Understanding the grounds for appeal and the appeals process itself is crucial for anyone seeking to challenge their felony conviction. It is advisable to consult with an experienced appellate attorney who can guide you through the complexities of the process and advocate for your rights.

Call Gressley and Donaldson today. We can help you evaluate your options and determine if you have grounds for an appeal. We are here to help with your criminal case you when you’re at your lowest.

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