An appeal of a criminal case beyond the Virginia trial courts is an action asserting that the trial court’s verdict, sentence, or both should be changed due to an error the trial court made in reaching its rulings. The most common forms of appellate relief are reversals of the trial court’s decisions and/or sending the case back to the trial court for a new trial that does not include the same error. When a case is resent in this form, it is called a remand.
The only courts in Virginia that can hear criminal appeals are the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court. The only trial courts from which an appeal can reach the appellate courts are the Virginia Circuit Courts.
A Prince William County appeals lawyer could advocate for you and assist you throughout the appeals process. Reach out to a seasoned criminal attorney today.
Certain rulings in a criminal case may be appealed even when a final verdict or sentence has not been entered in the case. The best example is a bond appeal which is one of the first issues the court decides in a case. If necessary, an order granting or denying a bond pending trial, or setting conditions for a bond, may be appealed all the way up to the Virginia Supreme Court on an expedited basis. Another example is an interlocutory appeal, which is the immediate appeal of certain pretrial rulings made by the court such as suppression motions or dismissal motions. Sometimes interlocutory appeals are specific components of a plea agreement with the prosecution if the appeal is unsuccessful. Other times they are initiated by the prosecution in opposition to the defense winning an important pretrial motion.
If a defendant cannot accept the outcome of their trial, an appeal is a way to attempt to change the outcome. Some people are interested in appealing their cases because they maintain the trial court got it wrong. Others are interested in potentially exploiting legal errors that may have occurred despite their personal beliefs or feelings about a case. Sometimes, an individual does not dispute their guilt but they believe the sentence was wrong or excessive. Occasionally, guilt is not disputed, but there are indications that a Virginia law or a provision of the United States Constitution was violated in the way the case was investigated or prosecuted. Beyond the merits of the case, some individuals are granted bonds pending appeal after their trial. They may wish to appeal the case for as long as possible to significantly delay the start of their sentence if they do not ultimately prevail on appeal, in which case the sentence could be avoided.
The benefit of a criminal appeal to the Virginia Appellate Courts is that the person has the opportunity to have their case considered in a completely different court by multiple judges who specialize in looking for legal errors made by trial courts. Many people believe their particular trial or trial judge was not fair for reasons having to do with the witnesses, evidence, the timing of the case, and any publicity that was produced.
On appeal, the judges are far removed from considerations that might influence a local judge to decide a certain way. They are supposed to be more open-minded and impartial. The biggest benefit of an appeal is the chance for the appellate court to reverse the sentence or verdict of the trial court and completely dissolve the case against the individual. If this happens, the person cannot be prosecuted for the same crime again and the case is over. Usually, an appeal does not result in a worse outcome than what the person already received. If the defendant is indigent, the court may allow them to have a court-assigned appellant lawyer. There is little legal risk in filing an appeal.
Less-sweeping relief than complete reversal is also possible, such as sending the case back to the trial court to be tried all over again without committing the same error as the first time around. Re-doing the trial is a significant burden for the courts in the Commonwealth, and sources of incriminating evidence from the original trial may be unavailable. As a result, prosecutors tend to offer much better plea agreements when a case is sent back for a retrial from the appellate courts. An appeal is also the only definitive way to challenge the substance of particular Virginia laws, which might have a wider impact on other cases involving the same issues. Consult with an appeals lawyer in Prince William County for more information about the benefits of filing an appeal.
Criminal appeals in Virginia can have significant disadvantages. Most notably, appeals are hard to win because the standards and procedures to prove the trial court made a significant mistake are high standards meant to protect trial courts. Appeals are not guaranteed to be considered by the Virginia appellate courts unless the case involved a charge carrying capital punishment. As such, the appellate courts frequently decline to consider a case that was appealed despite its potential merits.
Sending the material to the appellate courts for review, and the time needed for the appellate courts to issue responses can take a number of months, sometimes more than a year. Appeals may substantially add to the court costs the person is charged for the litigation of their case, which is separate from the money they may already owe in restitution or court fines.
To learn more about the appeal process, call a Prince William County appeals lawyer today.