When you decided to go to trial and let the court decide your fate, you might not have expected that the court would actually convict you. You've probably heard from one source or another that the possibility of appealing a conviction exists. In truth, you can only appeal your conviction under certain circumstances.
Many people believe that they can file an appeal for any error, irregularity or defect that may occur during the trial. However, if the error failed to substantially or materially affect you or your rights, it doesn't provide you with grounds for appeal. The law considers errors that fall into this category as "harmless errors." So, what isn't considered a harmless error?
Four basic grounds for appeal of a criminal conviction
When an error may have affected the outcome of your case, it could provide you with grounds to file an appeal. First, however, you must show that the mistake falls into one of four categories.
A plain error occurred
These errors affect your substantial rights. Someone involved in the trial either failed to notice the error or noticed it and failed to make an objection in a timely manner, which would have brought the error to the court's attention. For example, miscalculations in sentencing happen far more often than anyone would like. If you appeal your conviction based on a plain error, the appellate court will more than likely order the trial court to correct the error. In the sentencing example, this would mean recalculating your sentence properly.
Weight of the evidence was insufficient
Using this ground for appeal presents a challenge. Appellate courts hardly ever view physical evidence, hear witness testimony or the opening and closing statements of each party. Reading the transcripts from a trial does not always provide enough information for the court to rule that the evidence and testimony presented to the trial court wasn't enough to support your conviction.
In cases involving DNA evidence, if a trial court judge failed to allow -- or disallow as the case may be -- certain evidence or testimony that could have led to another verdict, an appellate court may rule in your favor.
If the judge abused his or her discretion
Throughout your case, the trial judge more than likely made numerous rulings. Many laws allow a judge wide discretion, which could be abused. If the appellate court determines that rulings were made under the following circumstances, it could rule in your favor:
- Not supported by facts or law
Often times, judges abuse their discretion due to local biases and their personal opinions, which is exactly what they should not do. Judges are human just like everyone else, and it's often difficult to ignore these influences. However, those influences should not determine your fate.
If your attorney was ineffective
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to a fair trial and adequate representation. If your defense attorney's conduct at trial caused a violation of this right and influenced the outcome of your case, the appellate court could rule in your favor. However, if your attorney's inability to provide you adequate representation didn't affect the outcome, the conviction would stand.
Do you have grounds for appeal?
An Indiana appellate attorney can tell you whether you have grounds to appeal your conviction. If it turns out that an appeal is possible, you would benefit from the assistance of counsel.