Defendant Appeals Guilty Verdict, Raises Self Defense…but what is an Appeal?

OK, so you’ve lost your criminal defense trial and now you want to appeal… What does that mean?

Recently, I was made aware of a criminal case in central Florida involving a young man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Essentially, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend came to his home and, after a fight, hit him in the head with a hammer. She broke his skull and seriously injured him. According to the defendant, he managed to seize the hammer and defend himself, killing her. The defendant was charged with 2nd degree murder and went to trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in jail. He is now appealing the verdict against him. His family and friends are working to help him develop the case for appeal.

For many people, it would be the ultimate nightmare: something bad happens, the police come, an arrest occurs, and one is taken to jail. Later, perhaps, a bond is posted, but there is still the matter of the pending charges.

For many defendants, a pre-arranged punishment in the form of a plea agreement is the means of resolving the matter. The plea might involve merely a fine, or perhaps probation and community service, or in the case of a serious charge, an agreed jail sentence.

Others opt for a trial and fight the charges. Such people feel that that they are innocent, or at least the case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. They elect to have a trial and let a jury decide the outcome. If they win the case (on all charges), then they go home. If they lose, a judge sentences them according to his discretion and/or statutory requirements.

When defendants lose a trial and are sentenced, many will consider whether an appeal would give them some relief.

However, there are many misconceptions about what an appeal really is. First of all, appealing a verdict, in most cases, does not mean that the entire trial will occur again. An appeal must be based on an error of law by the judge, improper behavior by the attorneys or the jury, or some problem with the legal procedures that occurred in the case. If the judge followed all the laws and used his discretion within permissible bounds, and if the prosecution, defense, and jury members acted appropriately, there is not much chance of an appeal prevailing.

Examples of cases overturned on appeal might include: whether evidence was admitted, when it shouldn’t have been–perhaps causing improper bias within the jury, or where the evidence was collected by the police in violation of the US Constitution. Where a prosecutor trashes the defense attorney or makes improper personal attacks that have nothing to do with the case. Where a judge errs in ruling for or against objections to testimony. These are examples of issues raised in appeals.

Sometimes a trial is so riddled with errors that an appellate court will ask for the whole case to be retried. Often however, appellate courts rule that although an error occurred, it was not a material or substantive error to the extent that it would have affected the overall outcome in the case. Most appeals are denied.

Do you have questions about a criminal charges in Melbourne, Florida? Questions about a Palm Bay, FL trial? Is your family member facing a trial in Deltona, Florida, Orange City, Florida, or Deland, Florida? Please contact Morgan Law, P.A. at (321) 253-6223 or (386) 218-4973.

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