If a court finds you guilty of committing a crime, it may seem like the end of the line. You may believe it is time to say goodbye to your plans and dreams and prepare to serve whatever sentence awaits you. However, this is not necessarily so. Everyone in New Mexico and across the U.S. who is convicted of a crime has the right to an appeal under certain circumstances.
An appeal is not a retrial. Instead, it is a re-examination of certain elements of your case to determine if significant errors occurred that may have affected the outcome of the trial. If a court acquits you, there is not likely to be an appeal from the prosecution. If a court hands down a conviction, you will want to take advantage of any opportunity to appeal the verdict or ruling.
Ground for appeal
No trial is perfect, and every case contains some kind of mistake. In fact, that is why attorneys for both sides frequently object during a trial. It is their way of putting on the record anything they perceive to be an error that may work against their cause. Your attorney likely objected to certain questions, comments or items of evidence. Harmless errors are not cause for filing an appeal, but the most common reasons for appeal include:
- Evidence allowed that should have been excluded or evidence denied that should have been allowed
- Insufficient evidence to support a conviction
- Improper police conduct in the course of your arrest
- Misconduct by the jury
- The incompetence or ineffectiveness of your defense counsel
Throughout the case and especially before a jury deliberates the verdict, the judge will provide the jury with instructions. This may include telling the jury to disregard certain testimony or explaining the rule of law they are to consider during deliberations. If the judge gives improper directions, the jury may then return a verdict based on those erroneous instructions. An appellate court may find this mistake egregious enough to return the case to the lower court for a review.
Facing the appeals process
The appellate court is very different from a criminal trial. Instead of one judge and a jury hearing testimony and examining evidence, a panel of judges reviews briefs prepared by each side’s attorneys. Those briefs describe the errors and the rules of law in question, and the appeals court will focus only on those legal issues.
The panel of judges for the appeals generally leans toward upholding the lower court’s rulings. However, if they agree that justice was not served in your case, your appeal may win you a second chance.