Georgia Criminal Appeal Lawyer
One of the fundamental principles of our Georgia criminal justice system is that everyone is entitled to have their “day in court.” You plan for your day in court. You wait patiently and often anxiously for that day to arrive. Then you have your day in court, but it doesn’t go the way you or your loved ones wanted it to go. What can you do? Is there a way to get a second “day in court”?
HOW A CRIMINAL APPEAL OF A CONVICTION WORKS
In most cases, you have a right to seek a second day in court either through a motion for new trial or through the process known as an appeal. Although motions for new trial are very important first steps in the appeal process, we focus in this article on the appeal itself. Criminal convictions in Georgia for both minor and major offenses can be appealed to one of Georgia’s two appellate courts.
The Georgia Court of Appeals is the lower level appellate court that reviews most appeals from criminal convictions. You almost always will have a right to at least have your case reviewed by the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals does not hold trials. By filing an appeal, you will not receive a new trial at the Court of Appeals. Its job is to review your trial and determine whether or not any errors occurred. It reviews your trial primarily by reading the trial transcript.
Everything that is said by the judge, the attorneys, and the witnesses during a criminal trial is recorded by a court reporter. After the trial, the court reporter types up everything that was said into a transcript.
The transcript then enables the reader to review what the witnesses testified to, what the attorneys argued, and what the judge ruled on any motions or objections presented to the Court during the trial. It reads like a script of the trial from beginning to end. Any documents, photos, or videos introduced into evidence during the trial are also copied and included in the trial transcript. The court reporter photographs any physical objects such as a gun or a knife introduced into evidence during the trial and includes those photographs in the trial transcript so the reader can see those objects.
In addition to reviewing the trial transcript, the Court of Appeals also reviews the arguments of the attorneys for the prosecution and the defense. Those arguments are submitted in written documents called briefs.
The party filing the appeal (known as the appellant) must show the Court of Appeals in their brief what error(s) were committed during the trial or hearing in the trial court that should cause the Court of Appeals to reverse or overturn the conviction and/or the trial judge’s ruling on legal issues presented during the trial or hearing. Errors can include the trial court’s failure to properly follow Georgia law or the Georgia or United States Constitution, the admission of evidence at trial that should not have been admitted, improper argument by the prosecutor, and many others.
A Common Issue Raised On Appeal
One common issue raised on criminal appeals is the failure of the defense attorney to provide the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Constitution. As a person accused of a crime in Georgia, you have a constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney at trial to defend you. But if your attorney fails to properly investigate your defenses, fails to properly cross-examine the witnesses against you at trial, or fails to object to violations of your rights at trial, you have not really received the effective assistance of counsel you are entitled to under the Constitution. If it can be shown that your trial attorney’s ineffective representation affected the outcome of your trial then your conviction can be overturned.
Because your trial attorney’s effectiveness is so frequently an issue worth exploring in a appeal, it is usually a good idea to have your case reviewed by a different attorney before you pursue your appeal to see if you have a viable argument that your trial attorney did not provide effective assistance of counsel. An attorney cannot argue their own ineffectiveness in an appeal. So by using the same attorney who represented you during your trial to handle your appeal without having another attorney review it first, you could be giving up this very important argument, which often can be your best argument on appeal.
Even if your trial attorney provided outstanding representation at trial, it is always helpful for purposes of the appeal to have an outside attorney review the trial with fresh eyes to spot issues that may not stand out to the attorney who has lived with your case for a year or more and has understandably become very invested in your trial defenses and trial strategies. If the trial or hearing did not go the way you wanted it to, it can never hurt to have an appellate attorney review it with fresh eyes just to bring an outside perspective to your case as you consider your options for an appeal and evaluate what went wrong at the trial or hearing.
Once your notice of appeal is filed at the trial court and the transcript and all pleadings and orders filed in the trial court are sent to the Court of Appeals, your case is docketed and assigned to a specific division of the Court of Appeals, which is comprised of a three-judge panel that will review your case. Most appeals to the Court of Appeals are decided without any type of hearing.
Oral argument can be granted but is the exception not the rule. Typically, the three-judge panel reviews the trial transcript and trial record and the written briefs from the parties and makes its decision. Because the Court of Appeals reviews cases in panels of three, at least two judges must agree whether your conviction should be upheld (affirmed) or overturned (reversed).
The third judge could disagree and write a dissenting opinion, but unlike trial juries, a panel of appellate judges does not have to unanimously agree on the outcome of your case. If one judge finds that your conviction should be overturned but the other two do not, your conviction will still be affirmed. But the dissenting judge’s written opinion could provide support for your petition to have your case reviewed by the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The Supreme Court of Georgia is the state’s highest appellate court. It is the first court to review murder convictions and constitutional challenges, but it is not required to review most other criminal cases. You have to ask the Supreme Court to review your case if the Court of Appeals did not rule in your favor. It is not a right you are guaranteed.
If the Supreme Court of Georgia agrees to review your case (through a process called certiorari), the focus of its review is usually on whether the Court of Appeals erred in its ruling on your first appeal. The Supreme Court of Georgia does not necessarily have to agree to review every argument your attorney made in the Court of Appeals and can limit the scope of its review to a single issue or a single ruling in the Court of Appeals’ opinion that it finds interesting or controversial.
Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court of Georgia does not conduct trials. Its review is also limited to the trial transcript and trial record. It will also review the opinion (order) issued by the Court of Appeals and the briefs filed in the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will also ask the parties or their attorneys to file new briefs on the issue(s) that the Supreme Court has agreed to review.
Unlike the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court of Georgia has nine judges (referred to as “justices” rather than “judges”), and typically all nine review every case that comes before the Court. One of the biggest difference between the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals is that if the Supreme Court voluntarily agrees to review your case, oral argument before the Court is mandatory and is scheduled automatically. This means that in addition to reviewing the attorneys’ written arguments in the briefs, the nine justices will all listen to a time-limited oral argument from the attorneys about the issues in the case. Frequently one or more of the justices will ask the attorneys questions during oral argument to help develop the legal issues in the case and sometimes to try to persuade their fellow justices on their view of the case.
Once the Supreme Court rules on your appeal, unless the United States Supreme Court agrees to review a constitutional issue in your case, which is extremely rare, your direct appeal options have been exhausted. That does not mean you cannot continue to try to attack your conviction through other legal action such as a habeas corpus petition, but your best appellate options are your direct appeals to the Georgia Court of Appeals and potentially the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Necessity Of An Experienced Appellate Attorney
That is why you want to take full advantage of those appeals and hire an experienced Georgia appellate attorney to review your case from the beginning. When you have already lost in the trial court and been convicted of a crime, you cannot afford to wait to hire an appellate attorney to represent you on your appeal.
Your freedom and your future are in jeopardy, and you need an experienced appellate attorney to guide you through the many landmines that exist in the Georgia appeals process when you are trying to do the difficult task of overturning a jury verdict or judge’s ruling. If you have been wrongfully convicted in any Georgia trial court, you need to contact an experienced Georgia appellate attorney to preserve your rights and begin your appeal right away.
The sad and scary truth is Georgia juries and judges get things wrong and innocent people are wrongfully convicted. If that has happened to you or one of your loved ones, contact a Georgia criminal appellate attorney at Spaulding Law right away to discuss your options for an appeal.