In Texas, there are two levels of appeal that a defendant in a criminal matter may make. The initial appeal will be to a Court of Appeals in the local area in which the conviction was handed down. Decisions from these Courts of Appeals can then be appealed a second time to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court in the Texas criminal courts system. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas is made up of nine judges, which are elected to six-year terms and meet in Austin.
Appeals are typically only made in circumstances in which the appellant is challenging a legal error within their original case, rather than challenging a matter of fact or the decision found by the jury that heard the case. Examples of these sorts of errors are things like improperly admitted evidence, or the prosecutor failing to prove a required element of the case that was brought against the appellant. In order to be successful in an appeal, an appellant must show that not only was an error made at the trial level, but that this error was significant enough that it very likely affected, or could have affected, the outcome of the trial. Because of this, it is fairly uncommon for an appellant to be successful in appealing a criminal conviction.
The process itself is fairly straightforward: the appellant files the appeal with the appellate court, along with a written brief by their attorney that will explain in detail why the appellant feels there was an error at trial. Likewise, the prosecutor will file a written brief explaining why the State feels that the trial court’s ruling was legal and correct. These briefs, along with the complete court records from the criminal trial are provided to the appellate court for review, and typically the appellant will be allowed to file a follow-up brief to rebut the points made by the prosecutor.
The appellate court, after reviewing the case file and the briefs provided by both sides will make one of three decisions: affirm the trial court’s decision, modify the trial court’s decision, or vacate the trial court’s decision and remand the matter back to the trial court for a new trial. In the last outcome, even though the appellant won their appeal they may or may not end up being acquitted at the new trial: winning an appeal by no means indicates that the appellant was cleared of the wrongdoing that was the basis for the original criminal case against them.
Convictions that involve the death penalty are automatically appealed to the highest court in the criminal justice system. This is referred to as a direct or automatic appeal, and in addition to the State criminal justice system death penalty appellants have an additional option of appealing their case to the United States Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari.
If you have been convicted of a crime in the Denton County area or Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and feel that there was a procedural error during your criminal case, contact the Abel Law Firm today to discuss your situation and learn more about your possible options.