“Of course, appellant is entitled only to a fair trial, not to a perfect trial.”
– United States v. Gonzalez, 488 F.2d 833, 836 (2d Cir. 1973)
Every defendant who has been tried and convicted has the right to an appeal. But the odds are long, and you generally get just one shot, so it pays to find the best appeals attorney you can get. To overturn a guilty verdict or get a sentence reduced, an attorney has got to have a thorough understanding of how appeals work in Florida because the rules are strict, the deadlines are tight, and there’s no room for mistakes.
To win an appeal, your attorney has got to get it right the first time – and have the right stuff. That includes a complete mastery of appellate law and procedure, meticulous research, a grasp of what’s likely to succeed, and exceptional communication skills. Talent and determination are essential.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office says that “Appellate procedures are governed by strict rules, and the attorneys involved in a case must follow them carefully. Sometimes the outcome of an appeal can be determined by obscure points of law, or even by a question of whether the right kind of appeal was brought at the right time.”
How Appeals Work in Florida
In appealing a conviction, an appellate attorney is asking a higher court to review procedural issues such as how the judge ruled on motions and objections made by prosecutors and defense lawyers during a trial. If the appeals attorney can demonstrate that the trial judge wrongfully overruled a defense attorney’s objections, for example, to allow certain damaging evidence or witness testimony, the defendant may be granted a new trial or get a reduced sentence.
An appeals court reviews only the procedural aspects of the trial. This is called a Direct Appeal. It does not consider new evidence, such as whether the police coerced a guilty plea or if your defense attorney was incompetent. In these situations, a conviction may be overturned when a skilled and experienced post-conviction defense attorney makes a Motion for Post-Conviction Relief to the trial judge.
The appeals attorney must find and present evidence of a “harmful error,” a mistake in ruling or procedure that would have affected the outcome of the trial or the severity of the sentence.
The first step in an appeal is to file a notice of appeal with the court within 30 days after entry of judgment. Once this has been filed, your attorney will an Initial Brief, which the prosecutors will answer with a Reply Brief. There may be a formal court hearing at which each side presents Oral Arguments, usually before a three-judge panel.
All appellant actions must be formatted and presented precisely according to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, otherwise, your appeal will be rejected.
It’s Best to Have an Experienced Florida Appeals Attorney
A successful appeal depends on your appellate attorney’s ability to study court transcripts and find evidence of a “harmful error.” Lawyers make mistakes all the time in criminal trials, but most of them wouldn’t affect the verdict or sentence. So your attorney has to pinpoint specific and significant departures from the law or procedure that would have made a difference in the trial’s outcome. In other words, “that the jury verdict would have been the same absent the error.”
Then, as important as identifying which procedural issues are worthy of appeal is the convincing presentation of your arguments clearly and concisely in written briefs and oral arguments. If knowledge of the law is a science, presentation of a legal argument is an art, and not all attorneys have the knack for it. It makes the difference between winning and losing a case on appeal.
Appealing a criminal conviction in the State of Florida can be a complex and challenging process, but with the right legal talent, it is possible to present a persuasive case to the court. An experienced and aggressive criminal appeals attorney may be able to develop a strategy to overturn your conviction.
Orlando Post-Conviction Attorney Rook Ringer at the Rivas Law Firm is an accomplished and highly skilled appellate lawyer experienced in state and federal courts. To discuss the best chances of getting a new trial or having your case dismissed, call 407-644-2466 for a free consultation.