The criminal justice system is intended to be a structure of fair dealing, which reasonably punishes criminal acts and rightfully exonerates the innocent. In a perfect world, justice would be meted rightly in every case. Unfortunately, the criminal court system is an imperfect machine run by imperfect people. During a case, people may make mistakes or may even act outside their lawful duties or instructions.
Understanding that a miscarriage of justice can occur even in a system based on upholding justice, Oklahoma grants defendants the right to appeal a court’s decision. A criminal appeal is one method of checks and balances to remedy injustices created by the court. Filing an appeal, while a “matter of right,” is a complex process subject to specific guidelines and criteria. Failure to follow correct procedures in an appeal can result in the loss of the appeal and the appeals court’s affirmation of the lower court’s ruling.
If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, your first step is to file a direct appeal of the decision. The appeal may be filed by the defense attorney who represented you in your criminal case, but often, it helps to hire an experienced criminal appeals attorney to look at the case from a fresh perspective. This is particularly true if one of the reasons for your appeal is a claim that you were denied effective assistance of counsel in your criminal case. Even if your defense attorney did a good job at trial but was plagued by failures or wrongdoing of the prosecution or jurors, you may wish to hire an experienced appellate lawyer if your defense lawyer does not have an established record of successful appeals.
At Law Firm of Oklahoma, our criminal appeals lawyers represent convicted defendants in appeals and post-conviction relief proceedings in state and federal higher courts:
If you have been found guilty of a crime you did not commit, if you received a sentence that exceeds what is right and allowable by law, or if you were convicted based on flawed or insufficient evidence, filing an appeal is the first step in righting the wrong. Call today for a free evaluation of your appeal.
Oklahoma state law calls the appeal of any judgment a “matter of right.” By law, you can appeal your conviction; however, the petition will only be successful if there is evidence of a specific legal error or wrongdoing that may have had an impact on the outcome of the trial. Harmless errors, or mistakes made that had no bearing on the conviction, are not appealable.
Grounds for appeal include legal errors, misconduct of jurors or prosecutors, the discovery of previously unavailable evidence, and ineffective assistance of counsel.
A legal error may be grounds for appeal if it is apparent that the error was prejudicial and could have reasonably affected the outcome of the case. Legal errors can include the court giving improper or incorrect instructions to the jury, evidence that is wrongfully admitted or excluded, a conviction that is unsupported by evidence, and procedural errors.
Among a person’s constitutional rights are the right to a fair and impartial trial and the right to a jury of one’s peers. Because juries are comprised of ordinary American citizens who are not legal experts, they may accidentally or purposely act outside of their sworn duties and responsibilities as jurors. Examples of juror misconduct include watching news reports or researching the internet for information about the case; discussing the case with others, including journalists, witnesses, and prosecutors; talking about the case to other jurors before the case goes to deliberation; lying or failing to disclose relevant information during jury selection; conducting one’s own investigation, including visiting the crime scene without authorization or conducting experiments; failing to pay close attention during the trial by showing up intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or drugs or sleeping during proceedings.
Juries are a critical element in the execution of justice. If a jury member is not impartial or acts outside of the law, it can result in a tremendous miscarriage of justice.
Most prosecutors are good men and women who deeply feel their responsibilities as agents of justice. Some, however, are motivated less by a sense of right than a desire to get as many convictions as possible. For people like this, they are willing to get a win at any cost. Knowingly admitting false testimony or intentionally omitting evidence that is likely to exonerate the defendant are some of the ways a prosecutor can gain the conviction of a defendant, even if that conviction is wrongful and unjust.
Defendants have the right to an attorney, and they have the right to an attorney who effectively does his or her job. Just because a defense lawyer does not win an acquittal does not mean he or she was ineffective or failed to provide adequate representation. However, certain failures on the part of a lawyer can demonstrate misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel. Failure to fully investigate the case, the evidence, or legal precedents; failure to interview or cross-examine witnesses; withholding plea offers; failure to object to prosecutor’s statements or improper evidence; and giving bad advice or unreasonable legal counsel may be among examples of ineffective counsel.
If new evidence is discovered after a person’s conviction, and that evidence has a likelihood of exonerating the defendant, that evidence may be introduced on appeal.
It is a common misconception that a successful appeal results in the immediate release of a person convicted of a crime. However, the appeals court does not try the criminal case or hear evidence in the criminal case. Instead, it looks at procedural issues to identify prejudicial legal errors or misconduct. After reviewing the case, the appeals court makes one or more of the following decisions:
Often, upon a finding of prejudicial errors, the appeals court will remand the case, or send it back to the lower court, for re-trial. The appeals court does not typically rule that the convicted defendant is innocent, but rather that the defendant did not receive the fair and impartial trial to which he or she is entitled by constitutional right.
If the court of appeals affirms the lower court’s decision, the defendant has lost his or her direct appeal. However, there are additional options for post-conviction relief.
When a defendant loses the direct appeal, he or she may continue to try to get a sentence or conviction reversed under the Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act.
When petitioning for post-conviction relief, a defendant may only raise issues that were not previously available during the direct appeal:
New information which may be raised in a petition for post-conviction relief includes the following:
While you may have a court-appointed attorney for your criminal trial or your direct appeal, you are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney for post-conviction relief. In order to petition for post-conviction relief, you must either attempt to handle a highly complex legal proceeding on your own behalf, or you must take the wise approach in retaining private counsel to represent you.
Filing an appeal is subject to strict deadlines and rigid protocols. If you or a loved one has been wrongfully convicted of a crime, contact one of our criminal appeals attorneys now to right the wrong and remedy injustice. Call (405) 608-4990 for a free consultation.