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Appeals in Criminal Cases

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The criminal justice system is meant to judge cases fairly and to assign the correct penalties to the correct circumstances. However, this system does not always result in fair or correct outcomes — leading to people receiving disproportionate sentences, or serving time for crimes they did not commit. In these situations, with the help of a defense attorney, you can appeal the decision that the judge and jury made regarding your Washington criminal case.

What Happens When You Appeal a Case?

In the criminal justice system, an appeal refers to the overturning of a guilty decision or the reassessing of penalties after the judge and jury already issued a verdict in a case. The defendant in the case will request that the federal Court of Appeals or the United States Supreme Court re-review the facts of his or her case and issue another decision. In many cases, the decision of an appeal is final.

As a defendant in a criminal case, you only have a limited number of times you can apply to appeal your case. In addition, the United States Constitution protects you from an appeal by the prosecution. According to the 5th Amendment and the double jeopardy clause, the court cannot try you for the same crime twice — preventing the prosecution from appealing your case if the judge finds you not guilty.

How Does the Appeal Process Work?

Usually in an appeal, your criminal defense attorney will raise a concern regarding how the district court handled your case. Your lawyer will argue that one of the legal grounds for appeal occurred in your case: legal error, juror misconduct, or ineffective assistance of counsel. If the application for appeal is successful, the case will move to the Court of Appeals.

During the appeal, the appellate court will examine the records of your original trial and determine whether or not the concerns that your lawyer raised occurred in your case. Your attorney will either submit a written brief or make an oral argument before a panel of judges regarding the case, and the prosecution will do the same. In the oral argument process, each side has 15 minutes to present their case and the panel will deliberate afterwards.

What Happens If You Win a Criminal Appeal?

It can be very difficult to win a criminal appeal — the Court of Appeals upholds the original decisions made in the vast majority of cases brought to their attention. It is not impossible to win an appeal — but winning an appeal does not mean that your case automatically changes to a not guilty verdict. In most cases, you will have to re-enter the trial process.

When the Court of Appeals decides to overturn the decision that your original court made, they will remand your case. After remanding, your case may enter one of the following pathways.

  • You will enter a new criminal trial on the same charges.
  • The prosecution and your attorney will meet with you and discuss options for a plea deal.
  • The Court of Appeals will require you to enter a new sentencing hearing and receive updated penalties.
  • In very rare circumstances, the state may release you from prison after an appeal.

Most appeal decisions are final, and it can be very difficult to bring your case for a second appeal if the first is not successful. However, hiring an attorney with a strong knowledge of criminal law in Washington, as well as experience arguing cases in front of the Court of Appeals, can help you build a strong and compelling case for the reassessment of your verdict.

If you decide that you want to appeal your case, you will need a defense attorney on your side to guide you through the process. Hiring a lawyer for your criminal case can provide you with a number of benefits, including knowledge of the complex appeals process, direct consultation on the facts of your case and your chances of a successful appeal, and the training and knowledge necessary to build a compelling defense on your behalf.

Contact our criminal defense attorneys as soon as you can to discuss your case and to begin the first steps toward an appeal.

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