Most people go to criminal appeals courts to appeal a conviction for a crime. An appeal can’t be made just because someone didn’t like the verdict. They must be able to show that the trial court made one or more serious errors that negatively affected the outcome of the case.
An appeal is not a retrial. It’s an opportunity to present evidence of these errors. Depending on the errors, an appeals court may reverse a conviction or order a new trial.
Sometimes, people don’t have grounds to appeal a conviction but contend that the sentence handed down was unreasonable. They may be able to appeal just the sentence in that case.
What factors are considered when reviewing the sentence?
In most cases, there are sentencing guidelines that prosecutors need to follow in asking for a particular sentence and that judges need to follow when handing down a sentence. A person typically has grounds to appeal their sentence if:
- The sentence violated the law.
- The sentencing guidelines (the minimum to maximum possible sentence) were not correctly applied.
- If a sentence outside the guidelines was intentionally imposed, a sufficient reason wasn’t given for doing so.
- The sentence “departs to an unreasonable degree” from the guidelines.
If there were no sentencing guidelines for a particular offense, a sentence can be appealed if it was “plainly unreasonable.”
A judge’s sentencing authority isn’t unlimited
Judges are given a fair amount of latitude at all levels of our justice system. Nonetheless, they have to make decisions based on the facts and the law. If they fail to do that, there are checks and balances.
Asking an appeals court to look at the sentence and determine whether it is reasonable given the sentencing guidelines and any other relevant factors is an important check on a judge’s power. If you are considering taking this step, it’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance.