The Appeal Process: Proving a Legal Error OccurredIf a person has been convicted of a crime in California, he or she may still obtain relief from the criminal justice system. One option would be to file an appeal to have that criminal conviction overturned or the sentence reduced. Before beginning the appeal process, however, it is best to seek the advice of a highly skilled criminal defense attorney. He or she can review your case and help determine if it is appropriate to begin the appeal process. Often, there must be solid proof that a legal error occurred during the trial or judgement period to ultimately win an appeal.

Determining a Basis for an Appeal
To get an appellate court to take an appeal seriously, one must display evidence that an error was made at the trial level. An appellate court will hear an appeal from a lower court when a significant error has been demonstrated. It is important to note, the alleged error made must have been significant and likely factored into the outcome of the case. This means it could not have been a “harmless error” or harmless errors” that took place. A “harmless error” is one that is unlikely to have made a big impact on the trial outcome. A “harmless error” is not grounds to have a judgement from a lower court reversed by a higher, appellate court. Therefore, to make a successful appeal plea, there must be sufficient grounds for that appeal. There are two basic grounds for an appeal: the lower court made a serious error of law, known as a “plain error,” and/or the the weight of the evidence does not support the given verdict.

Proving a “Plain Error” Occurred
A “plain error” is a mistake that clearly affected the case, specifically the rights of the defendant. The judge may not have been made aware of this error. Regardless, a substantial “plain error” most likely is cause for an appeal to be made. If that error is proven, then the defendant has a good chance of getting a favorable ruling regarding his or her criminal conviction. Remember, when considering an appeal, that the error made must have been egregious enough for a defendant to prevail in the appeal process.

What are my Chances of Winning an Appeal?
Before initiating the appeal process, it is important to understand that judges typically will not overrule the judgements made by a trial court. Appeal courts are known to tell defendants that they were not guaranteed an error-free trial, as no trial goes perfectly. However, an appellate court does overturn a guilty verdict when the error made by the trial court is proven to have contributed to the wrong outcome for the defendant. If the error made is deemed “harmless” then the conviction will stand. Some types of errors are significant, especially if they are in violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, however. An example of a serious error would be if a confession was made by use of coercion.