What Are the Grounds for Appeal?

What Are the Grounds for Appeal?

The pursuit of justice doesn’t always end with a verdict. Enter the appeals process – a critical avenue through which individuals can challenge court decisions that they believe to be unjust or erroneous.

Basics of the Appeal Process

If a defendant is convicted in the State of Texas, they have the right to challenge their conviction by filing an appeal and requesting that the decision of the lower court be reviewed by a higher court for error. If the appeal is successful, the defendant’s conviction can be overturned or remanded back to the lower court for additional findings of fact and law.

At that point, the lower court may even render a different decision than it did on the first pass. Not every case can be appealed, however, and to do so, “grounds” are required. Grounds for appeal are discussed in the section below. 

Harmless Versus Material Errors

There’s a historical preference in the United States not to disturb the factual record of a trial court because that trial court or “lower court” is best suited in terms of experience, personnel, and procedure to assess the facts of a case. For this reason, appeals may somethings be seen as “narrow” pathways, meaning that to successfully bring an appeal, the defendant must be able to demonstrate that substantial or material error occurred when the case was in the trial court.    

An error cannot be “harmless,” meaning of such a nature that if the error were corrected, the trial court would still reach the same decision. Attempts to appeal a case that can only demonstrate harmless error will likely die on the vine, leaving the trial court record and decision both undisturbed.

grounds for appealing a criminal conviction

However, there are several viable “grounds for appeal” that are not harmless error, and these are discussed below.   

Common Grounds for An Appeal

1. Legal Errors

A legal error affects the defendant’s substantial rights, and even though a defendant may not have brought this error to the judge’s attention during trial, they can still raise the issue on appeal if they can show their rights were substantially harmed. This is sometimes also called “plain error,” and common examples of plain error are when judges miscalculate sentences after convictions or misread or miscommunicate jury instructions.

2. Evidentiary Issues

Appellate courts almost never hear live testimony of witnesses, view documentary evidence, or hear the attorneys’ various arguments during motions, opening, and closing of the case. For this reason, appellate judges will often veer away from reviewing the factual record of the case.

However, if an appellate court finds that a judge abused its discretion with regard to the admission or exclusion of evidence, it may render the judge’s ruling “clearly unreasonable, erroneous, or arbitrary and not supported by the facts or law in the case.” Because these types of errors can affect the ultimate decision, they are far from harmless, and evidentiary choices of trial judges can be viable grounds for an appeal.  

3. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects defendants against ineffective assistance of legal counsel, among other procedural improprieties in trials. Ineffective assistance of counsel is a legal safeguard and essential to the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a fair trial ensured by the Founders of the Constitution. A reviewing court will take a look at the lawyer’s conduct to see if it was so improper as to effectively deny the lawyer’s client representation. Although this has traditionally been a difficult ground to prove, with courts even finding sleeping or intoxicated attorneys to sometimes still be effective, it is a ground that is available to litigants.

4. Constitutional Violations

Issues of improper evidence gathering under the Fourth Amendment due to wrongful search and seizure; false arrest under the Fourth Amendment; failure to give Miranda notice under the Fifth Amendment; and failure to provide a speedy trial, impartial jury, or effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment are all potential Constitutional violations which provide viable grounds for appeal if put forward by skilled appellate counsel.

5. Jury Misconduct

If jurors fail to remain impartial or participate in any illegal behavior that impacts the outcome of the case, particularly the defendant’s right to a fair trial, “jury misconduct” may be another ground for appeal. Specific examples of jury misconduct might include never discussing the case at all, going home and watching news coverage of the case, leaking information to the press, or drinking or doing drugs while performing jury service.  

6. Newly Discovered Evidence

Newly-discovered evidence is evidence that almost couldn’t have been reasonably discovered during the trial, such as a witness who comes forward for the first time, a witness who wishes to reverse their testimony, or new scientific evidence based on technological advancements, such as better DNA gathering/matching technologies which have overturned the convictions of some clients on appeal. 

Procedural and Filing Requirements When There Are Grounds for Appeal

Filing a Notice of Appeal in Federal Court

If a court convicts a defendant, the ruling can be appealed to an intermediate-level appellate court or the highest court, depending on the state. If the matter is federal, it goes to one of the thirteen appellate district courts based on the region of the country.

If the defendant is unsuccessful in the intermediate court, the defendant may appeal their conviction to the state’s highest court or, in the federal situation, to the United States Supreme Court. Review of appeals is discretionary and is limited to only a small percentage of cases.

Possible Outcomes When There Are Grounds for Appeal

If a case is successfully appealed, the appellate court may remand the case for further findings of fact and law, sometimes with specific instructions to the lower court. This can result in a completely new verdict or judgment by the lower court. The appellate court may also render its own decision on the case, completely overruling the decision of the lower court.

Or, if the appeal is not successful, the appellate court may uphold the lower court’s decision, denying the relief the defendant was seeking in their appeal or not hearing the case at all, in which case the lower court’s decision will also remain undisturbed.

The Importance of Legal Representation to Find Grounds for Appeal in Your Case

While some defendants may appeal as a matter of right, depending on the nature of a conviction, a defendant does not always have an automatic right to appeal their conviction. In addition, and as explained above, successful appeals require grounds, which require an experienced and skilled criminal defense counsel who can identify and raise such grounds in briefings and arguments.

Appellate procedures can be highly technical, and appellate grounds can be narrow. Thus, expert legal counsel is always recommended to protect a defendant’s chance at appeal.

Contact the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer Today

At the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer, our federal appellate lawyers are highly skilled and experienced with the federal court appeal process and can answer your questions and help you with your legal needs.

Contact attorney Seth Kretzer today to get started.

Phone: 713-775-3050
Fax: 713-929-2019
Houston, TX 77002
440 Louisiana, Suite 1440