"We, the jury, find the defendant guilty." These are the seven words no defendant wants to hear. This is the verdict every defendant hopes to avoid.
The criminal justice process is intended to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Unfortunately, as a system that relies on fallible humans, the criminal justice system itself is occasionally flawed. Sometimes, guilty people go free. Other times, innocent people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. Even when the system gets the conviction right, it may get the sentence wrong, with a judge or jury meting out a sentence that exceeds what is reasonable and just or that violates statutory sentencing requirements.
Recognizing the flaws of the criminal justice system, the courts provide a process of appeals that can right the wrongs of a miscarriage of justice. This means that a guilty verdict does not have to be the end of the line. If a case includes legal errors that may have adversely impacted the outcome, or if new evidence is discovered that could have changed the verdict had it been presented at trial, a person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal his or her conviction or sentence.
An appeal is a delicate and complex process. Each step must be carefully handled; each brief or filing skillfully crafted. Extensive legal research is required to find precedence and elements of law that were violated during the trial. An appeal is something you cannot handle alone. You must have the skillful representation of an appellate lawyer. You may use the same defense attorney who represented you in your criminal case, but in some situations—particularly if your appeal is based in part on ineffective counsel—you may wish to find a new attorney who can look at your case and the elements of your trial with fresh eyes.
While most states have only one "supreme court," Oklahoma has two appellate courts—one ruling on civil appeals and one ruling on criminal appeals. The first recourse in a criminal appeal is to present the case to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in Oklahoma City. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court in Oklahoma with jurisdiction over criminal cases, and is thus the state court of last resort.
Federal cases are appealed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth District. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Denver, Colorado, and it has jurisdiction over appeals of cases from Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, and parts of Yellowstone National Park that extend into Montana and Idaho.
Grounds for Appeal
In order to successfully appeal a conviction or sentence, there must be evidence of legal error that may have affected the outcome of the trial. If errors are made that would not have had any impact on the likelihood of conviction, the appeals court holds these to be "harmless errors" that will not bring a successful appeal.
An appeal is not just an option; it is a right. State law explains the right to appeal and the appeals process in 22 O.S. § 1051 through § 1079.
In order to file an appeal, there must be one or more errors or grounds for appeal arising from the case:
- Legal errors – improperly submitted evidence, incorrect jury instructions, insufficient evidence to support conviction
- Juror misconduct – discussing the case with other jury members outside the jury room prior to deliberation; discussing the case with media, the press, prosecutors, witnesses, or anyone else; watching news reports or other media about the case; exposure to extraneous information; conducting experiments or investigation; accepting a bribe; failing to disclose information during voire dire; intoxicated or impaired during the trial and/or deliberations; unauthorized view of the crime scene; sleeping during trial or otherwise failing to pay attention
- Prosecutorial misconduct – admission of false testimony, willful omission of exonerating evidence
- Ineffective assistance of counsel – failure to investigate, failure to object to prosecution statements, failure to object to evidence or suppress evidence, failure to interview witnesses or cross-examine them, giving incorrect advice or withholding a plea offer
- New evidence – potentially exonerating evidence discovered post-conviction
The appeals court has four options in ruling on an appeal:
- The court may affirm the judgment of the lower court.
- The court may reverse the judgment of the lower court.
- The court may modify the judgment or sentence of the lower court.
- The court may order a new trial or resentencing and remand the case back to the lower court.
When a case is remanded to the lower court, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals must provide proper instruction and the court's opinion to make sure the errors in the initial case are not repeated.
Post Conviction Relief
If a direct appeal is denied, you still have options post conviction relief. This step is critical in continuing the appeals process, for you must exhaust all state remedies before filing Habeas Corpus at the federal level.
The post-conviction relief process is outlined beginning in 22 O.S. § 1080, which the reasons a defendant may challenge a conviction or sentence:
Any person who has been convicted of, or sentenced for, a crime and who claims:
(a) that the conviction or the sentence was in violation of the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution or laws of this state;
(b) that the court was without jurisdiction to impose sentence;
(c) that the sentence exceeds the maximum authorized by law;
(d) that there exists evidence of material facts, not previously presented and heard, that requires vacation of the conviction or sentence in the interest of justice;
(e) that his sentence has expired, his suspended sentence, probation, parole, or conditional release unlawfully revoked, or he is otherwise unlawfully held in custody or other restraint; or
(f) that the conviction or sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack upon any ground of alleged error heretofore available under any common law, statutory or other writ, motion, petition, proceeding or remedy;
may institute a proceeding under this act in the court in which the judgment and sentence on conviction was imposed to secure the appropriate relief. Excluding a timely appeal, this act encompasses and replaces all common law and statutory methods of challenging a conviction or sentence.
In post-conviction relief proceedings, the appellant may not re-raise issues that were already denied on direct appeal.
Oklahoma Appellate Lawyer
If justice has already failed you once, you do not want to take any chances in ultimately securing a just outcome. Schedule a risk-free consultation with an appeals lawyer who can represent you in all appellate processes. Act quickly—you have limited time in which to file a direct appeal. Call (405) 418-8888 today.