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Criminal Appeals - Overview

Posted by Kara Hoopis Manosh | Mar 22, 2023

In the United States, our Constitution affords us the right to due process, and part of that is the right to appeal a court's decision. That means if your criminal trial did not conclude with the outcome you had hoped, you may be able to appeal if sufficient grounds are present. Keep in mind, however, that an appeal is not the same thing as a new trial. Many defendants also think that if they appeal, they can introduce new evidence, but that is a misconception about criminal appeals. 

It's best not to navigate the criminal justice system on your own. Manosh Payette, LLC, a criminal defense law firm in Providence, will explain what your options are if you are found guilty and subsequently sentenced. If an appeal is appropriate, we will discuss with you exactly what that may involve. It can be costly to appeal, so you always want to start your criminal defense off right by hiring a criminal defense lawyer who will fight to uphold your rights and seek the best outcome. Call us today at 401-854-7794 to schedule a consultation if you have been arrested and charged with a crime or if you have been found guilty and want to appeal.

What is a Criminal Appeal?

During a criminal appeal, the defendant asks a higher (appellate) court to review and either reverse or modify a lower (trial) court's decision. The party appealing the trial court's decision is the appellant. The other party is referred to as the appellee.

When a defendant is found guilty after a trial, they have a right to appeal the verdict. The prosecution, on the other hand, cannot appeal an acquittal. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits double jeopardy, which means you cannot be tried twice for the same criminal allegation. Both the prosecution and the defense, however, can appeal a defendant's sentence as well as any interim decisions made by a judge, like the admissibility of certain evidence. 

Appellate courts are concerned with legal errors. They do not hear evidence or make findings of fact as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. An appellate court examines a trial for any potential errors in terms of procedure, the law that was applied, and how it was applied.

The appellant files a notice of appeal, and upon the filing of this notice, the clock starts ticking for the appellant to file a brief. The brief states the facts and the law, explaining why the trial court's decision must be reversed. The appellee has an opportunity to respond with an answering brief. Then, the appellant may respond with a second brief that answers the appellee's brief.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court will review the appellate briefs and will also hear oral arguments.

Grounds for a Criminal Appeal in Rhode Island

The specific grounds of an appeal will vary from case to case. Ultimately, an appellant must show that the lower court made a substantial or material error during the trial, i.e., one that affected the outcome of the trial. A harmless error, even if an error, will not change the outcome of the lower court's decision.

The most common grounds given for a criminal appeal in Rhode Island include but are not limited to: Serious error of law, and abuse of discretion, improper jury conduct and prosecutorial misconduct. 

Serious error of law

A defendant may file an appeal on the basis that the trial court made an error in how they applied the law to the facts. For example, if the judge gave incorrect instructions to the jury on a legal issue or miscalculated the sentence, that may be ground for an appeal. 

Abuse of discretion

A trial judge has wide discretion when ruling on pretrial motions and legal issues that arise during a trial. A party can appeal an interim ruling that was clearly unreasonable, erroneous, arbitrary, or unsupported by the facts or law. 

Improper jury conduct

A defendant may appeal their conviction if a juror acted improperly during the trial or deliberations. For example, if a juror speaks directly to a witness, that could be grounds for an appeal. 

Prosecutorial Misconduct

When prosecutors engage in dishonest or abusive acts in an effort to persuade a judge or jury of a defendant's guilt and those abusive acts were prejudicial and harmed the defendant's case, there may be grounds for appeal. Prosecutorial misconduct must be of the nature that even if a judge instructed the jury to disregard the improper act, the jury finds it hard to do, and that impacts the way they decide the case. Examples of prosecutorial misconduct include a prosecutor commenting on inadmissible evidence before the jurors, intentionally misstating what the law says, or appealing to the jury's prejudices.

Possible Outcomes of a Criminal Appeal in Rhode Island

After considering an appeal, an appellate court's decision may be one of many. The appellate court may:

  • Affirm the trial court's decision and uphold the conviction and sentence 
  • Reverse, or overrule, the trial court's decision
  • Remand, or return, the case to the trial court for a full retrial, resentence, or reconsideration of a specific aspect of the trial based on the appellate court's finding
  • Modify a sentence

An appellate court can also dismiss an appeal on procedural issues, such as a lack of jurisdiction. 

Contact a Criminal Appeals Lawyer in Providence Today

Criminal appeals involve a highly specialized area of law that has the potential to significantly alter the outcome of the trial court's decision. So, if you are considering appealing the outcome of your criminal trial, it's worth speaking to a criminal appeals attorney in Providence.

At Manosh Payette, LLC, our criminal appeals attorney has the skill and resources to help you file a timely appeal and strategically argue your case. Not only can we provide you with advice, but we will also review your trial with fresh eyes to identify all potential grounds for appeal. Contact us today either by filling out the online form or calling us at 401-854-7794 to schedule a consultation.

About the Author

Kara Hoopis Manosh

Attorney Manosh has dedicated her entire career to defending the rights of the criminally accused. She has handled thousands of cases, appearing in every courthouse in the State of Rhode Island.

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