Pursuing a Criminal Appeal

Sullo & Sullo Helps Clients Make Both Federal and State Criminal Appeals from Harris County Convictions.

What is a Criminal Appeal from a Harris County Criminal Court Conviction? Once a criminal defendant has been convicted and sentenced, there are specific instances in which that defendant may file an appeal to a higher court, asking that the lower court’s decision be reviewed for legal errors which could have affected the outcome of the case. If the appeal is granted by the appellate court, the decision of the lower court could be reversed—either in whole or in part. If the appeal is denied by the appellate court, then the decision of the lower court will stand.

It is important to note that when a defendant enters a plea of guilty in response to criminal charges, that defendant does not have an automatic right to appeal—in this instance an appeal will be heard only if the appellate court gives the defendant permission to do so. Further, all states which enforce the death penalty—like Texas—allow an automatic appeal.

Since appellate cases are much different—and much more complex—than trial cases, filing a criminal appeal in the state of Texas requires an experienced Houston Criminal Appeals Attorney, whether the conviction was in state or federal court. The notice of appeal must be filed within weeks of the sentencing, although the exact time frame varies by jurisdiction.

What are the Grounds for a Criminal Appeal after a Harris County Criminal Court Conviction? In cases where there was no guilty plea involved, there is an absolute right to a criminal appeal, although simply because an appeal is filed does not mean the appeals court must hear the case. The threshold which must be satisfied to obtain an appeal is known as the “grounds” for appeal. The most common grounds for appealing a criminal conviction are that the lower court abused its discretion when ruling on a contested issue. Other grounds for a criminal appeal include:

  • Jury misconduct—If it is later found that a juror failed to tell the truth during juror examination (voir dire), this could be grounds for an appeal. If a juror considered evidence which the court asked the jurors to disregard, this could also be grounds for appeal. Finally, if a juror discussed the case with another person after being told not to, or visited the scene of the accident after being told not to, then jury misconduct could prompt a criminal appeal.
  • Plain error—A harmless error is a mistake which, in the end, does not affect the outcome of the case or violate the rights of the defendant. By contrast, a plain error is an error so severe that confidence in the criminal justice system is severely undermined.  
  • Abuse of discretion—When the trial court failed to exercise “sound, reasonable, and legal decision-making skills,” then a criminal appeal could be warranted. If there was inadequate notice of the charges, an unlawful search and seizure, an improper exclusion of important defense evidence, improper admission of irrelevant or prejudicial prosecution evidence or insufficient evidence to support the verdict, then the trial court may have failed to exercise legal decision-making skills.
  • Ineffective Counsel—To assert ineffective counsel, there must be proof the defendant’s attorney made mistakes or was incompetent to the degree that the outcome of the case was influenced by the incompetence or mistakes. In other words, just because the outcome of the case was not what the defendant wanted, ineffective assistance of counsel can only be claimed if the evidence backs up the claim.

What Harris County Criminal Court Convictions Can Be Appealed? Generally speaking, only more serious criminal convictions are appealed, and it is unusual for a defendant to appeal a more minor criminal conviction such as a DWI in Texas or simple assault—although not impossible. Serious, violent criminal convictions such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, manslaughter, arson or drug possession or trafficking are the Harris County Criminal Court convictions most often appealed because these convictions come with extremely harsh sentencing. When a criminal conviction is warranted, it is essential that Houston Criminal Appeals Lawyers are on the case as quickly as possible following the sentencing.  

What is the Process for a Texas Criminal Appeal after a Harris County Criminal Court Conviction? - In the state of Texas, the two highest courts are appellate courts—the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Like other appellate courts, these courts do not conduct trials, consider witness testimony or exhibits introduced during the trial as evidence. These two appellate courts consider only the trial record—the written transcripts and exhibits of the proceedings during the trial, and will also hear oral arguments of opposing counsel. The criminal appeals process can take a relatively long time, and includes several distinct steps:

  • Transcripts and recordings will be requested from the court clerk or court reporter—a process which typically takes about a month.
  • The transcripts and recordings are then prepared and filed, and other parts of the court file are sent to the Court of Appeals—a process that can take a couple of months.
  • The Houston Criminal Appeals Attorney will review all the transcripts and pleadings to identify potential errors—a process which can take between one and three months.
  • Once the appeal issues are identified, they must be thoroughly researched. An opening brief is drafted and a reply to the prosecutor’s brief is completed—another two-three- month process.
  • Once all briefs are filed, the Court of Appeals will schedule oral arguments, and, at some point will issue a written opinion. This can take several months, and the defendant can ask the Court to reconsider its decision within 20 days.

Must I Continue Serving My Sentence While Appealing a Harris County Criminal Court Conviction? - In some cases, an order to stay the sentence could be obtained during the appeal process, meaning the defendant would not have to begin serving the imposed sentence until the decision of the Appellate Court is given. A bond is usually required if the defendant is allowed to stay out of custody while the appeal is pending, and the court has broad discretion to deny an appeal bond. There are specific crimes for which the sentence absolutely cannot be stayed—the sentence must be served while the appeal is pending.

State vs. Federal Criminal Appeals - Convictions in state court will be appealed to a Texas appellate court, while a federal conviction must be appealed in the federal appeals system—which has higher stakes than state court appeals and is a niche law area relatively few criminal appeals attorneys practice. There are twelve United States Courts of Appeals which decide cases from the various federal district appeal courts. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is located in New Orleans and hears cases from all districts of Texas, as well as Mississippi and Louisiana. The Houston Criminal Law Firm of Sullo & Sullo has Houston Criminal Lawyers capable of handling both state and federal criminal appeals. Whether you are filing Federal Criminal Appeals or Harris County State Criminal Appeals, experienced Sullo & Sullo Houston Criminal Lawyers can help make the process easier and more understandable.  

Help for Your Criminal Appeal from Sullo & Sullo's Houston Criminal Lawyers - The highly experienced Criminal Appeals Lawyers at Sullo & Sullo offer Houston Criminal Lawyer Free Consultations and are Houston Criminal Defense Lawyers with Payment Plans. We understand this is a difficult time for you, and our goal is to work hard on your behalf to present a successful criminal appeal. Having Sullo & Sullo Houston Criminal Appeals Lawyers by your side, who can identify the applicable grounds for appeal, then follow through with a skillfully-written appeals brief and oral argument is key to the outcome of your criminal appeal.

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