• Sarah MacGillis

Found Guilty and Sentenced: Now what? The Criminal Appeal.

All criminal defendants who have been convicted and sentenced by a district court judge have a right to appeal their conviction, sentence, or both. An appeal is not coextensive to a new trial. It is not a re-trial of the defendant's case; rather, it is a review of the defendant's case. Unlike the broad sweep of testimony, evidence, and argument presented during the trial of a matter or during sentencing, an appellate court's review is largely confined to reviewing errors that occurred prior to or during the trial, or during sentencing. The breadth of that review is defined by what is referred to as the "standard of review." The standard of review is most simply described as the lens with which the appellate court examines claimed legal error. A wide lens provides more extensive review than a narrow lens. "De novo" review is substantially broader than determining whether the trial court "abused its discretion."


There is no jury hearing evidence during a criminal appeal. Instead, in most cases, the record on appeal is examined by a three judge panel of the Minnesota or Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals depending on whether the underlying case is a state or federal case. The record on appeal includes pretrial motions, testimony at hearings, the trial, and/or at the sentencing hearing, exhibits, and voir dire and jury instructions. That record is transmitted from the district court below to the court of appeals hearing the matter.


The appellate process, then, largely involves showing the reviewing court what errors occurred during the trial, how the underlying issues should have been resolved, and why the defendant is entitled to the relief he or she seeks. Those issues are first identified in briefs filed by counsel for the defendant/appellant, and then presented later during oral argument when it is granted. Oral argument is a coveted opportunity to address the substance of your legal arguments and help the panel with any concerns they have regarding your position, the record, or the relief you seek.


A decision regarding the issues raised in the appeal is made by the panel at a later date. Their decision is referred to as an opinion and it sets forth their decision as to each legal issue raised and the remedy sought in accord. If the defendant/appellant disagrees with their opinion, there are other opportunities to seek further review.


I have appealed numerous cases in both state and federal courts with excellent outcomes in many. Please let me know if you have any questions regarding your right to appeal or the process. I'll be happy to discuss it with you.




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