You’ve been convicted of a crime in Arizona state court. What now? Is your case over, or can you file an appeal? Here’s what you need to know:
What Does it Mean to Appeal a Criminal Conviction?
An appeal is a review of proceedings that occurred in a lower court. It is not a new trial or re-sentencing in most cases. If the appellate court finds that the lower court made a mistake and that mistake was significant enough to warrant a remedy, it can grant a new trial or re-sentencing, but this takes place back in the lower court. So, to put it another way, if the lower court makes a mistake in your trial and you succeed on appeal, the result, generally, is that you get a new trial back in the lower court.
What Are the Most Common Reasons for Filing a Criminal Appeal?
Everyone who is convicted of a crime in Arizona has the right to at least one appeal. This means you do not have to have a specific reason for seeking a review of the outcome of your trial. However, most commonly, defendants file appeals if they feel they have been wrongly convicted. Typically, this will be the case because either (i) the judge improperly denied or granted a motion, or (ii) the judge or jury make a finding of guilt that should not have been made.
Any type of criminal case can be appealed, though appeals are most common when the stakes are very high for the defendant. Any felony or misdemeanor can be appealed; however, most successful appeals involve cases with complicated legal issues where the lower court likely made a mistake during the trial.
Are There Any Convictions that Aren’t Eligible for Appeal?
Yes. In Arizona, there are many situations in which convictions can not be appealed. The most common situation is when the defendant is convicted as the result of a plea agreement. One of the hallmarks of the plea agreement is that the defendant waives his or her right to appeal. A defendant who is convicted as the result of a plea agreement can file a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR), but the scope of review for PCR is more limited than an appeal.
You can also lose your right to appellate review if you do not file your appeal in a timely manner. In Arizona, there are very strict timelines that depend on the type of conviction and the originating court. In the lower courts, you can have as little as 14 days to initiate your appeal. For convictions in Superior Court, the deadline is generally 20 days from the date of conviction
What are the Steps Involved in Filing an Appeal?
The first step for filing an appeal is to notify the trial court that you intend to appeal your conviction or sentence. This is done by filing a “Notice of Appeal” with the trial court, indicating to the court the issue(s) for which you are seeking review. Due to the strict timelines and complex legal issues involved, it is strongly in your best interest to seek advice from experienced legal counsel.
What Factors Will Lead to a Reversal on Appeal?
These can vary greatly, but an appellate court will usually only reverse a trial court’s decision if it feels the trial court committed a mistake that was so severe that the only way to fix it through a new trial, hearing, or sentencing. However, while it is usually only in extraordinary circumstances, the appellate court also has the power to order that a case be dismissed entirely.
Is Filing an Appeal the Only Way to Challenge My Conviction or Sentence?
No. The Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure permit defendants to file other requests at the trial court level to seek a new trial or revisit an issue that might have changed the outcome of the case. Under certain circumstances, defendants can also file for post-conviction relief. Again, due to the complexity of the issues involved, if you believe that you have grounds to challenge the outcome of your case you should speak with an attorney promptly.
Does Filing an Appeal Automatically Stay Execution of the Trial Court’s Judgment?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. In the lower courts, municipal courts, and justice courts, filing an appeal “stays” (or delays) imposition of the defendant’s sentence. If your sentence stays, you do not need to make payments on fines, do classes, or serve any jail time until your appeal is resolved. In Superior Court, however, an appeal typically does not stay a sentence, so you will still be incarcerated or placed on probation while your appeal is pending.
How Long Does an Appeal Take?
The amount of time it takes to resolve an appeal depends heavily on the type of case and the issue(s)that are subject to review. Depending on the circumstances involved, an appeal can take anywhere from a few months to several years.
What Makes a Case a Good Candidate for an Appeal?
There are some appeals that are not likely to succeed, and then there some that are very likely to result in a reversal at the appellate level. The best appeals, from the defendant’s perspective, are those in which the trial court is given very little deference by the appellate court. Issues of law (such as whether a law is constitutional, or the interpretation of a word in a statute) are reviewed de novo, which is the lowest form of deference. In these cases, the appellate court is free to substitute its opinion for that of the trial court.
In contrast, the appeals that are least likely to succeed are those that involve discretionary rulings at the trial court level. In these cases, the trial court’s decision is reviewed for abuse of discretion, and Arizona’s appellate courts give great deference to the discretionary rulings of the trial courts.
Why Should I Choose The Weingart Firm for My Criminal Appeal?
While most criminal attorneys in Arizona handle trials, very few handle appeals. Appellate law is complicated and has nuances that even many lawyers do not wish to try to understand. Additionally, appellate practice is cumbersome, and it requires the attorney to review records of proceedings, trials, and sometimes reams of transcripts before writing lengthy and highly-technical appellate briefs.
At The Weingart Firm, we devote a significant portion of our practice to appellate representation, and all of our appellate attorneys have extensive experience handling criminal appeals. While we can never promise a specific result, we are familiar with the appellate process and the judges and courts involved and have keen eyes for appellate issues that less-experienced attorneys might miss. In short, we know what it takes to file a successful appeal, and we can use our attorneys’ extensive knowledge and experience to your advantage.
Discuss Your Case in Confidence
If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys about appealing the outcome of your criminal case, we encourage you to get in touch. To get started with a free and confidential consultation, call 480-405-7922 or inquire online today.