Criminal Cases in California: Filing an Appeal

A guilty verdict is not necessarily the end of a criminal case, as defendants have the right to file an appeal if they feel their verdict or sentence was reached in error. Because the appeals process is complex and involves its own set of rules and procedures, it is important to work with an attorney who is experienced in handling these matters.

What is an appeal? It is essentially a request for a special court called the appellate court to review a case that went to trial and verdict. An appeal does not necessarily mean that a new trial will be held. The appellate court will review the evidence, including witness testimony and exhibits, that were presented at trial in order to determine whether the trial court made a legal error in how such testimony or exhibits were received. The appellate court does not actually decide the facts of the case to render a verdict, as a judge or jury in a trial court does. The purpose of the appellate court is to determine whether errors or misconduct occurred that affected the outcome of your case.

You may file a criminal appeal only for the following two reasons:

  • You believe there was not enough evidence presented against you at the trial to justify the verdict or judgment; and/or
  • You believe there were legal errors made before or during the trial that adversely affected your case.

Some specific scenarios that may fall under these two categories may include: jury misconduct (such as bribing jurors or jurors who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the trial), false arrest, improper admission of evidence, improper exclusion of evidence, ineffective defense counsel, misconduct by the prosecuting attorney or sentencing errors. Depending upon which category your appeal falls under, you may face slightly different appellate proceedings.

If you appeal for the first reason listed above, based on insufficient evidence, the appellate court will review all trial records, testimony and evidence to determine whether your claim is true. If you appeal for the second reason, based off alleged legal errors, the appellate court will hold a hearing to allow the defense and prosecution to present their cases on the matter.

What happens if I win my appeal?

There are three possible outcomes if you appeal a criminal conviction and the appellate court finds in your favor:

In this scenario, the appellate court may reverse the conviction and dismiss the charges against a defendant. This is a possible outcome if the court determines that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to support a conviction.

New Trial
The appellate court also has the power to grant a defendant the right to a new trial. If the court determined that your defense attorney was ineffective to the degree that he or she harmed your case, for example, you may be granted an entirely new trial with a new attorney.

This final scenario occurs when an appellate court sends the case back to the trial court with instructions on how to address whatever error was made. This may occur if you were wrongly sentenced, for example.

Key deadlines apply to appeals; if you fail to meet a deadline, you may lose your right to file an appeal. In California, if you were convicted of a misdemeanor offense, you typically have 30 days to file an appeal. This is accomplished by filing a Notice of Appeal (Misdemeanor), Form CR-132. If you were convicted of a felony, you must file a Notice of Appeal – Felony (Defendant), Form CR-120 within 60 days.

Interested in learning more about appeals or wondering whether you can appeal a conviction? Call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Lessem & Newstat for a confidential review of your case. We are experienced trial attorneys who fight tirelessly for our clients at every stage of their cases.