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Understanding the Difference between Post-Conviction Relief and an Appeal

Posted by Kara Hoopis Manosh | Sep 10, 2023 | 0 Comments

If you or someone close to you has been convicted of a crime, there are various legal options available for challenging the conviction or sentence. Two of the most common methods include an appeal and post-conviction relief. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent different legal processes with distinct outcomes. In this blog post, we'll explain what each process involves, highlighting the key differences so that you can make an informed decision if you're seeking to challenge or overturn a conviction.

What is an appeal?

An appeal is the legal process that allows a defendant to challenge a conviction or sentence by asking a higher court to review the trial court's decision. In an appeal, the defendant's attorney typically argues that the trial court made errors or engaged in misconduct that prejudiced the defendant. The appellate court reviews the trial court's decision based on the written record of the case, including transcripts, jury instructions, and any evidence presented. Unlike a trial, however, appeals do not allow for the presentation of new evidence, testimony, or arguments.

What is post-conviction relief?

Post-conviction relief is a legal mechanism that allows a defendant to challenge a conviction or sentence after their trial has ended. While appeals are limited to challenging errors made during the trial, post-conviction relief allows defendants to bring claims based on new evidence, newly discovered facts, constitutional violations, or other grounds. Examples of post-conviction relief include habeas corpus petitions, motions for a new trial, and petitions for sentence modification. Unlike appeals, post-conviction relief can involve new evidence, witness testimony, and legal arguments that weren't presented at the trial.  In Rhode Island, there is a statute that governs specific grounds for post-conviction relief based upon Constitutional deficiencies in the conviction, such as ineffective assistance of counsel, due process violations, prosecutorial misconduct, etc.  

What's the difference between an appeal and post-conviction relief?

The primary difference between an appeal and post-conviction relief is the scope of review. Appeals are limited to the record of the trial court, while post-conviction relief allows for new evidence and arguments. Additionally, appeals can only challenge errors made during the trial court proceedings such as improper evidentiary rulings, whereas post-conviction relief can be used to challenge a wide range of issues including ineffective assistance of counsel, newly discovered DNA evidence, and misconduct by prosecutors. Finally, appeals are heard at a higher court, while post-conviction relief motions are typically heard by the trial court that originally presided over the case.

When should you consider an appeal or post-conviction relief?

Whether you should pursue an appeal or post-conviction relief depends on the specifics of your case. If your conviction was the result of mistakes made during the trial, such as improper jury instructions or admissions of inadmissible evidence, your lawyer may recommend filing an appeal. If you have new evidence that wasn't considered at the trial, or if your lawyer failed to provide effective assistance, post-conviction relief may be appropriate. Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical in determining your options and the likelihood of success.


Appeals and post-conviction relief are two important legal mechanisms that can be used to challenge a conviction or sentence. While the terms may seem interchangeable, each process offers different opportunities and limitations. Understanding the key differences between an appeal and post-conviction relief is essential to make an informed decision about how best to challenge a conviction or sentence. If you're in need of legal representation for an appeal or post-conviction relief, don't hesitate to contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys for guidance and support.

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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