Everyone hopes that there are enough protections in place in the American legal system to protect innocent defendants from being convicted of crimes and sent to prison. However, some experts estimate that there are between 40,000 and 100,000 wrongfully convicted citizens in prison at any given time. In addition, in fact, there are over 200 cases on file where new scientific means for processing DNA evidence has released innocent citizens wrongfully incarcerated. It is important for such victims to remember that the appeals process is there to protect their rights, and they should take advantage of it within legal boundaries.
The Process of Fighting a Wrongful Prosecution
First, it is important to realize that there are limits to how many appeals a convicted criminal can file, depending on the state and the available evidence. For state criminal convictions, an appeal can be filed in each higher court above the last conviction. In some states, there are only two levels of trial courts, which means there are only two levels of appeal, with federal courts and even the Supreme Court still open to them in some cases. In others, there may be up to five levels of state courts, allowing five levels of appeal.
The process of filing an appeal after prosecution begins with retaining a lawyer to represent them and file the appeal. In general, appeals can only be filed based on any errors that occurred in the first trial that resulted in harm to the appellant. Courts are reluctant to overturn the decisions of a lower court in their state without clear evidence in these areas.
- The appellant and their attorney then prepare a brief outlining the errors found in the original trial
- The state also files a brief outlining why those actions were not errors or were not harmful to the appellant
- Each party then has the opportunity to file a brief in response
- The court may choose to hear oral arguments, but is not required to do so, before reaching a decision
In addition, there are a number of actions that a convicted defendant and their criminal defense attorney can file to re-open the case, including:
The final protection is a writ of habeas corpus, which requests that a jail or prison release a prisoner to the court because their rights are being violated in some way by the continued incarceration. This is usually granted only in extreme cases where all other options have been exhausted.
Statutes of Limitations and the Laws
Every state has its own statute of limitations on criminal offenses that vary depending on the crime and the circumstances. However, in most criminal cases, a convicted defendant has between 30 and 60 days to file an appeal, and in others, they have an unlimited time to file.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, make sure to talk to a criminal defense attorney to find out what options you have to defend the case.