The California legal system’s appeals process is structured to protect parties involved in legal disputes and criminal cases. After a verdict has been granted, either side of a civil case or the defendant in a criminal case can make an appeal to a higher court for review in an attempt to overturn the ruling. If there were issues during the legal process, an appeal can bring those issues to the surface, effectively invalidating the ruling and saving the appellant from an unjust penalty.
Abuses of the system or neglect in presenting cases are serious legal failures that the state of California actively attempts to limit through its appellate court. There are a number of infractions that the appeals process can reveal and rectify, including:
- Excluding critical evidence or allowing improper evidence.
- Jury misconduct or improper instructions for the jury.
- Prosecutor misconduct, such as falsifying evidence or testimony.
It is essential that a defendant thoroughly discuss their options with their lawyer to determine the best course of action in attempting an appeal. There must be sound reasoning for filing an appeal before an appellate court will review it. An appeal is not a separate trial, and new evidence cannot be submitted to determine a new judgment. It is a review of the legal proceedings of the initial trial to see if there was a miscarriage of justice.
There are specific steps and critical timelines inherent to the appeals process. Failure to meet filing deadlines or adhere to the steps can result in appeals being denied. The defendant needs to talk with their attorney to understand how the appeal is categorized, as certain civil and criminal case circumstances operate on different criteria and deadlines.
Filing a Notice of Appeal
The first step in the appeals process is the most time-sensitive. A notice of appeal is usually a simple one-page form submitted at the trial court along with a filing fee.
The defendant has 60 days from the time of judgment to file the notice of appeal, or the appeal is thrown out. The process can partially depend on the severity and nature of the charges being brought; therefore, it is absolutely essential that the defendant discuss the specifics with their attorney so they know they are operating within the proper timeline. There is little to no flexibility if a deadline is missed.
If the notice is submitted properly, a lengthy appeals process ensues. It can often take up to 18 months before a verdict is determined.
Court of Appeal Filings and the Written Briefing
Upon submission of the notice of appeal, the state Court of Appeal assumes the case. Preliminary filings are requested from the defendant shortly thereafter. Requested documents can vary depending on which California court district is handling the case, but they usually entail basic case matter details to determine if the case is appealable.
Once the appeal is authorized, there is usually a span of a few months where the official record that is to be scrutinized is assembled. The defendant then needs to thoroughly gather all of the relevant material from the trial to present their case and compile a written briefing. All arguments are made in reference to the court records and transcripts because the appeal strictly focuses on the integrity of the court proceedings. This written briefing is the key element of the appeals process. It is the argument that the appellant will present, which details wherein the trial proceedings that errors were made and thus adversely affected the quality of the judgment.
Defendants are provided a flexible time frame to compile the most exhaustive case briefing possible. They usually have at least 40 days, but it could be longer depending on extensions granted by the courts. The opposing party is granted access to the defendant’s initial briefing to compile their own arguments and submit their briefing. The defendant is then given another chance to offer a reply brief. Throughout this process, it is common for written motions to be extended asking for more time or to raise objections.
Appeal and Post-Judgment Procedures
After the briefing, an opportunity to present an oral argument before a panel may be offered, but this is usually a short ritual if performed at all. If the appeal is successful, the case may be sent back to lower courts to be retried or thrown out. If unsuccessful, the defendant can argue against the Court of Appeals’ decision in the California Supreme Court and even federal court if needed.
They can also submit a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge unlawful imprisonment if appeals are ineffective. This is separate from appeals, as it addresses the conditions of confinement and provides another avenue for defendants to argue their case. Importantly, the new evidence can be submitted at this stage, with limitations, and the effectiveness of the defendant’s counsel can be brought into question. If their attorney made errors during trial, the defendant may get a reprieve.
The appeals process is designed to hold courts and prosecutors accountable in their presentation of facts and rendering of judgment. It represents a dedication to accurate and unprejudiced rulings and adherence to constitutional law. Defendants must be diligent in exploring all approaches to appealing their cases to potentially avoid undue punishment.