Criminal Appeals in Texas
How do criminal appeals work in Texas? Here is what you need to know
A conviction does not always mean the end of the road for your case, your lawyer and the judge will inform you of your legal rights to appeal the court’s decision. Filing for an appeal means that you are requesting a higher court in the judicial system to review the decision made on your case to decide whether it is fair or unfair.
A criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the laws and procedures of filing an appeal by submitting it to the Texas Court of Appeals in the jurisdiction where you underwent trial. There exist only 14 such courts in the state of Texas.
In regards to a criminal appeal, the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure require that you and your lawyer choose either a notice of appeal or a motion for a new trial. Texas court of appeals
As mentioned earlier, the 14 districts of Texas each have its Cout of Appeals.
The large districts have six justices, while the smaller districts are made up of three justices. These justices are tasked with all the appellate workload and hence have jurisdiction over both criminal and civil cases but not those involving the death penalty.
The Criminal Appeal Process in Texas
An experienced attorney will consider filing a notice of appeal at the end of the trial while in the courtroom. Such a bold move is essential, especially in criminal cases, as it ensures that the rights of the accused are protected.
In the situation where your case is a criminal case, and the defense lawyer has not been appointed for an appeal or hasn’t been retained, then the best move would be to allow the accused to sign the notice of appeal and also providing his address. However, if the lawyer signs the notice of appeal, then he/she will be regarded as the attorney for the appeal and hence won’t be able to withdraw themselves.
The deadline for submitting a notice of appeal in a criminal case is within 30 days from the date that the ruling was pronounced in court and not from the date when the court opinion was signed.
On the other hand, the deadline for submitting a notice of appeal for a civil case is within 30 days from the time that the final judgment is signed and not when the ruling is announced in court. It is crucial to adhere to the rules because failure to do so in the stipulated time frame means that the defendant loses their right to appeal.
Cases on appeals don’t entail new witnesses or evidence; they involve reviewing the case for any errors during the trial. The reviews include the examination of the clerk’s records and the reporter’s notes concerning the case. These transcripts should be acquired by your attorney in preparation for the case.
Motion for a New Trial
The defendant also has a legal right to file a motion for new trial simultaneously. In the event that the deadline for submitting a notice of appeal is extended, the defendant will then have 90 days in both a criminal and civil case from the date that the judgment is pronounced by the court to submit a notice of appeal as stipulated in the Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure section 26.2
Filing a motion of new trial is a key strategy used by the defense team to present any errors regarding the case that are not available on the record, such as the evidence that shows the misconduct of a juror according to the Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 21.3. It is important to note that a motion for a new trial has no effect on the jurisdiction of the court hence enabling the trial court to provide a ruling on the case notwithstanding the motion.
The deadline to file a motion of new trial is within 30 days from the date that the court imposes a sentence in open court and the motion can then be amended at any time as long as it is within the 30 day period, which can be the case if new evidence is presented.
Appointment of Appellate Counsel
If your case is categorized as a criminal case, your defense attorney is supposed to submit a motion for appointment of appellate counsel during the time when he/she is filing a notice of appeal, if possible, before leaving the courtroom. Your lawyer should attach the motion for appointment of counsel with an affidavit that clearly states that he/she is indigent. The primary reason for the motion is to protect the right of the defendant to appoint a legal counsel on appeal. This leaves a window for the defendant’s loved ones to later appoint an attorney for the defendant.
Constructing the Record on Appeal
Your defense lawyer has the responsibility of creating the record upon the start of the appeal process. This is because the cases are usually reviewed for any legal errors. Since the court of appeal will look into the appellate record, the defense attorney needs to do a thorough job. The court of appeals are only required to go through the appellate records and not conduct a new trial, hear witnesses’ statements, or accept new affidavits. The only documents to be considered include the clerk’s record and also the reporter’s record.
Working with an experienced appeal attorney can help ease the stress during the appeal process because you are assured of receiving expert service. The process of constructing the record to be reviewed by the court requires your lawyer to write to the clerk by instructing him/her about the information to be included in the record. The clerk will then provide copies of the necessary information by charging a per-page fee.
The appellant’s attorney also has to communicate to the court reporter by formally requesting the transcripts recorded during the trial. What follows is that the court reporter prepares a cost estimate, then prepares the transcript and finally file the record with the court of appeals. The court reporter’s record and the clerk’s record constitute the whole appellate record, which is the only information that the justices of the higher court will review.
When the appellate records are filed, the appellant’s attorney will, therefore, have 30 days for filing the opening brief or filing a request for an extension. As soon as the court receives the opening brief, the opposing side, which is either the appellee of the state, should file the response brief. The defendant then files a reply brief by addressing the statements argued by the appellee or the state.
The Decision of the Court
As soon as the appellate record and the briefs of the parties involved are presented to the court, the justices are required to review the briefs and the records. The justices might schedule for oral arguments from each attorney to take about twenty minutes to answer any questions provided by the judges. When the submission of oral arguments is complete, the judges then submit the case for a ruling, after which they present a written opinion about the case.
“An experienced attorney will consider filing a notice of appeal at the end of the trial while in the courtroom. Such a bold move is essential, especially in criminal cases, as it ensures that the rights of the accused are protected.“
What Happens After the Appeal?
Motion for rehearing and petition for case review
An unsuccessful appellant has only 15 days to file for a motion for rehearing. In the event where the motion is denied, the appellant has 30 days to submit a petition for discretionary review addressed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a criminal case. In a civil case, the defendant has 45 days to file for a review petition to the Texas Supreme Court.
When filing for a petition for review, it is important to adhere to the set rules, which included limiting the number of pages to fifteen only. The review should carefully explain the importance of the case and why it is so special, including why it should be accepted by the higher court for further review. In the event that the petition for review is denied, then your attorney will explain to you that there is nothing further that can be done.
If the petition for review is accepted, your attorney will be required to submit additional briefs as the appellate records are submitted to the supreme court. The court will allow time for oral arguments from concerned parties and then make a decision by providing a written opinion that reflects the final outcome of your case.
Proceeding to a Federal Court
In a criminal case, if the appellant is unsuccessful at the Court of Criminal Appeals, then he/she has the legal right to continue to a federal court by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus as contained under section 2254 of the United States Code. The writ serves to assert a constitutional violation by the state and establishes that the appellate courts failed in deciding correctly over the federal constitutional claims. The laws that govern the criminal cases in this level include the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, also known as AEDPA. These laws are set high and have a rigorous standard for federal courts to rule differently than the state courts.
You should be aware that the federal constitutional claim, which is the basis for the habeas corpus [etition should have been first exhausted at the state level. What this means is that the constitutional claim must have been submitted by your attorney to the state courts and must have been denied by the same courts. Therefore a claim should not be asserted for the first time during the appeal process. Failure to submit the claim during the trial leads to a procedural default that prohibits the federal court from looking into the constitutional claim.
Why You Need a Texas Appeal Attorney
Appeal cases require the expertise of an experienced defense lawyer who is familiar with the complex rules and laws involved in appellate courts. The following some of the ways in which your lawyer can make your appeal successful.
File a motion for a new trial within 10 days
A common mistake in criminal cases is the failure to submit the motion for a new trial to the judge presiding over the case. The motion should be officially submitted to the judge and not the court coordinator. This simply means that the attorney should not only file the motion but take an additional step of personally handing over the motion to the judge while ensuring that the record is documented. Your attorney will only have 10 days from the date the motion for new trial was filed to submit it to the judge.
Accurate and timely objection
It is important for the defense attorney to make an objection whenever he/she dislikes the evidence presented to the court. It is important for the objection to be recorded while clearly explaining the legal justification for the given objection. The attorney should be able to identify the state statute; the constitutional provision acts as well as rules of evidence as grounds for objection. If the legal counsel fails to do so during the trial, then it results in procedural default, which prohibits the use of such objections in higher courts. One of the things that the justices of the appeal courts focus on is if there were accurate and timely objections by the lawyer during the trial.
Acting quickly after an adverse judgment
It is important for the defense attorney to make decisions quickly and diligently when going through the options for appeal. The defendant usually requires information and advice regarding what to do next after an adverse ruling at the end of the trial. The attorney should be able to provide quick and sound advice regarding what to do next within the first week of the court’s judgment.
Submit key appeal documents on time
In a criminal case, the attorney who has just lost a case should strive to file key appeal documents while still in the courtroom. Timely submission of these documents will give the defendant ample time make a strategy on the case.
How long does an appeal process last in Texas?
The average time taken by the appeal process from the beginning to the end is about 7 to 14 months. In some cases, it might take longer, while others take a shorter time, especially those that should be expedited by the law.
It is always advisable to consult an appeal attorney to guide you through the entire appeal process to increase your chances of getting a favorable ruling.
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