Commonly referenced in popular culture but less widely understood is the legal principle of “double jeopardy.” This principle is deeply rooted in the United States Constitution as well as state constitutions. It means that the government cannot bring a second criminal trial against a defendant after the defendant has been declared not guilty in their first trial. This is true for state and federal courts, whether the trial was held before a judge or before a jury of the defendant’s peers.
Double jeopardy also means that a state or federal prosecutor, sometimes also called a district attorney, cannot appeal a defendant’s not guilty verdict to the next level of courts, called appellate courts. So, if the defendant receives a not guilty verdict, the state is stuck with it.
The situation is different, however, when it’s related not to the criminal defendant’s conviction but rather to the criminal defendant’s sentence, for example, the number of years the defendant will spend in prison. Prosecutors can appeal the defendant’s sentence if they have grounds to demonstrate to the appellate court that the judge’s sentence did not meet the applicable legal standard for the crime.
Legal Grounds for Prosecutors to Appeal a Sentence
In many states and at the federal level, there are “sentencing guidelines” that place restrictions on how a judge may sentence a defendant. The practical effect of sentencing guidelines is that they often result in “mandatory minimums” for specific crimes committed under particular circumstances, for example, using a dangerous weapon or being a repeat offender.
The sentencing guidelines are also what a prosecutor appealing a sentence will turn to at the appellate level. The sentencing guidelines in the state or the federal court will form the basis for the prosecutor’s appeal to the appellate court that the judge was too lenient in sentencing the defendant.
Thus, it is critical when defending against an appeal of a sentence to work with an appellate attorney who understands the complex and nuanced sentencing guidelines of the particular jurisdiction as the attorney is putting together a defense strategy against the prosecutor’s appeal.
Who Can Appeal a Not Guilty Verdict?
As discussed above, it is not the not guilty verdict that is subject to appeal but rather the sentence imposed by the judge on a criminal defendant.
This can happen when a prosecutor appeals the sentence as too lenient for the crime. On the other hand, a defendant can also appeal a ruling that they believe is too harsh and can seek a lesser sentence, considering the sentencing guidelines or other things the judge took into account at the time of sentencing.
The defendant, unlike the government, can additionally appeal their conviction. The conviction and the sentence can be appealed simultaneously or separately at different times.
Understanding the Appeals Procedure
As appellate practice is highly complex and involves legal research, the formation of a record, brief writing, and often oral argument, it is recommended to only file an appeal with the assistance of an experienced civil appellate attorney. Once the notice of appeal is filed, the legal team will prepare the record and form the legal arguments for appealing the defendant’s sentence, conviction, or both.
Need Help in Your Guilty Verdict Appeal? Contact the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer
Can you fight a case after pleading guilty? At the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer, our appellate lawyers are highly skilled and experienced at finding all available grounds for appeal for our clients. Whether it’s a wrongful conviction or an overly harsh sentence, we are here for you and standing by to help.
Contact attorney Seth Kretzer online or by phone at 713-775-3050.