Can You Appeal a Criminal Case in Georgia?

How Can You Appeal a Georgia Criminal Conviction?

Through a criminal appeal, a higher court can vacate or reverse the judgment of a lower court. In Georgia, felony trials are held in county superior courts. If a person is convicted of a crime, they may appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals or Supreme Court of Georgia.

However, some nuanced rules and procedures apply to appealing a conviction. Certain documents need to be submitted within particular timeframes and deadlines. Thus, although the answer to the question “what is a criminal appeal?” might be simple, the appeals system itself is intricate.

The Georgia Appeals Process

While everything about the Court of Appeals in Atlanta and the Supreme Court of Georgia, from its jurisdiction to its judges, is outlined in the Georgia Code, you will find a few critical steps of the appeals process below. 

Motion For New Trial

The first option for a convicted defendant is to file a motion for a new jury trial. This is a request for the same trial court to take a second look at the case. The oral arguments would be conducted for the criminal cases you’re charged with.

At the hearing on the motion for a new trial, your lawyer can bring up the errors made at trial, revisit the evidence previously presented, or introduce additional evidence. It is important to note that you must file this motion within 30 days of your conviction, and the trial court has the discretion to deny it.

Direct Appeal

If the trial judge denies the motion for a new trial or, for strategic reasons, you do not want to have a new trial hearing, you may file a notice of appeal. In most cases, when you have appealed already, you will have to wait. This is a simple document notifying the clerk and judge of the lower court of your intention to take the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals or, in a murder case, to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Filing should be done within 30 days of conviction or 30 days of the denial of a motion for a new trial. After filing, the court reporter and trial court clerk will prepare the transcripts and necessary case records to be sent to the appellate court.

After the case is docketed at the appellate court, a written brief is due within 20 days. The Court of Appeals may also set dates for an oral hearing if necessary. After this, the court makes a decision, usually several months later.

Petition for Certiorari

If an appeal fails at the Court of Appeals, a defendant does not have an automatic right of appeal to a higher court. They must file a petition for certiorari. This petition asks the higher court to accept the case. The higher court is at liberty to reject the petition. One can petition the Georgia Supreme Court if their case fails at the Court of Appeals and, afterward, the United States Supreme Court.

Habeas Petition

A petition of Habeas Corpus is another option if other appeal options fail. It is usually filed in the county where the petitioner is held in custody. It is a civil petition that asks the court to look at constitutional errors made in the case, e.g., ineffective assistance of counsel. It allows a hearing in the superior court with a different judge to determine the claim’s validity. If successful, the conviction is vacated, and a new trial commences.

Extraordinary Motion for New Trial

In rare cases, you may file an extraordinary motion for a new trial. This happens when new significant evidence, such as DNA, has been discovered. Such evidence needs to be one that can significantly alter the result of the case. There is no time limit to filing an extraordinary motion, but only one can be filed in your case.

Filing Request for an Appeal Bond

After filing a motion for a new trial or a notice of appeal, your lawyer may request an appeal bond. If granted, this will allow you to stay out of jail pending the appeal’s conclusion. However, there are certain criminal offenses for which an appeal bond is not considered. These include crimes like rape, murder, kidnapping, etc. If appealing a misdemeanor conviction, the trial judge is required to grant an appeal bond.

Possible Outcomes of Criminal Appeals

There are three possible outcomes for an appeal case. The outcome will determine the next step in your case.

Affirmation

An affirmation is where the upper court agrees with the trial court’s decision. In such a situation, whatever conviction and verdict were rendered at the initial trial stands. If this is the result of your appeal, your lawyer can review your options and if you can still appeal to another higher court.

Reversal

A reversal occurs when the upper court vacates the trial court’s decision. If your lawyer successfully argues your case in the written brief or oral argument, they will have convinced the appellate court that your conviction should not stand. In such a case, the appellate court would order a new trial entirely. The case would likely start from the beginning again without any conviction.

Remanded to Trial Court

An appeals court reviews decisions made by lower court judges. If your appellate lawyer raises an issue that requires additional information, the appeals court could return the case to the original judge. In that instance, your case will be remanded for further consideration or clarification about the original ruling.

This means that while the errors were insignificant enough to invalidate the entire trial, the appeals court found enough grounds to send the case back to the initial court for further analysis. On remand, the lower court may change its original ruling or keep it the same. It must make a new determination on the issue in light of the instructions from the appeals court.

What Are the Most Common Grounds for Criminal Appeal?

There are several grounds for a criminal appeal, but some of the most common include:

  • Ineffective assistance of counsel: This is when your lawyer’s performance during the trial was so inadequate that it deprived you of a fair trial. Examples include failing to call important witnesses or not conducting proper investigations.
  • Legal error: This occurs when the trial court makes a mistake in applying the law, such as admitting evidence that should have been excluded or giving incorrect instructions to the jury.
  • Prosecutorial misconduct: When the prosecution engages in illegal tactics, it can provide grounds for an appeal. Examples include withholding evidence, making improper statements during trial, or using perjured testimony.
  • Juror misconduct: If a juror’s actions or statements during trial affect the case’s outcome, it can be grounds for an appeal.
  • Insufficient evidence: A conviction cannot stand if insufficient evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This can occur if substantial evidence was excluded or the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof.
  • New evidence: Newly discovered evidence, such as DNA evidence, that could have potentially changed the trial’s outcome can provide grounds for an appeal.
  • Misconduct by the judge: If the judge engages in inappropriate behavior during the trial or shows bias towards one party, it can be a basis for an appeal.

What Happens if My Appeal Is Denied – Do I Have Other Options?

If your appeal has been denied, you have a few other options, including a petition for rehearing, a petition to the Supreme Court of Georgia, or seeking post-conviction relief. In some cases, where your case involves a federal question or constitutional issue, and all state appeals and post-conviction relief options have been exhausted, you may be able to file a habeas corpus petition in federal court.

Why You Need a Georgia Appellate Attorney

The criminal appeal process differs from the initial trial process in many ways. The skills that an appellate lawyer needs differ as well. For example, a large part of the appeal process is producing written briefs and identifying legal and procedural issues. Retaining an experienced criminal appeals lawyer is crucial if you lose your case at trial, as your initial counsel may have been ineffective.

At Conklin Law, our practice focuses on the Georgia criminal appeals process. Our years of experience and track record of success have allowed us to precisely understand what to look for in post-conviction cases as possible relief routes.

Don’t hesitate to contact Conklin Law if you need help with the Georgia Appellate system.

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