Criminal Appellate Law
The term ‘Appellate Law’ is something of a misnomer. In fact, ‘Appellate Law’ as such does not even exist. Instead, appeals are made in a variety of different cases in a variety of contexts, and the rules and procedures governing appeals differ depending on the facts of a case, the body of law governing the case, the court or tribunal that had jurisdiction to hear the case, and other factors. In sum, ‘Appellate Law’ as a concept is terrifically complicated.
In criminal cases, the State or the Federal Government charges someone with a crime. Unless the person charged pleads guilty or unless the State or Federal Government drops the charge, a trial is had in a courtroom.
During trial, the State or Federal Government must prove, through the introduction of evidence, that the accused is guilty of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The person charged is given the opportunity—if he or she chooses—to introduce evidence showing that he or she is innocent. An accused is not required to offer evidence or to take the stand. A defense can be waived, and the accused—through an attorney or on one’s own—can make the argument to the judge or jury that the State or Federal Government failed to prove its case. In the end, the decision on guilt or innocence is in the hands of the judge or jury.
Appealing a case can be an extremely complicated process. Even figuring out the proper court in which to file your appeal can cause confusion. In North Carolina, all appeals are governed by the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure. These rules set out everything an appellant must do—and must not do—in appealing a case from state and administrative courts in North Carolina. Before we jump into these rules, let’s backtrack a few steps and talk about some of the most common types of appeals which occur prior to petitioning the state appellate courts.
Many criminal cases in North Carolina begin in District Court. Most misdemeanor criminal cases and driving-while-impaired (DWI / DUI) cases begin in District Court. If a person is convicted of a crime in District Court, he or she may immediately—or upon furnishing of written notice within ten (10) days—appeal the case to Superior Court. Most felonies, or serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary and arson, among others, are prosecuted in Superior Court. In addition, the Superior Court considers cases appealed from District Court de novo—or as if for the first time, meaning the Superior Court is not bound by anything that happened in District Court.
If a person is convicted of a crime in Superior Court, he or she may appeal the conviction to either the North Carolina Court of Appeals or the North Carolina Supreme Court. Under North Carolina law, the state Supreme Court can only hear a very limited number of cases appealed directly from Superior Court. Instead, most appeals from Superior Courts are made to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Both state courts of appeal are located in Raleigh.
If an appeal is made and a person’s conviction is affirmed by the state courts of appeal, further appeal can be made to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located in Richmond, Virginia. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases that have been appealed from states within its limited jurisdiction, including North Carolina. Getting the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to even consider a case is no small feat. The case must involve a matter of great importance—usually a glaring Constitutional violation or some matter of fact or law that is unique or heretofore unanswered by courts within the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.
If a person loses an appeal in the 4th Circuit, he or she can appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Like other appellate courts, the United States Supreme Court has promulgated and enforces very specific rules about the kinds of cases it can hear and the manner in which cases must be presented to the court. In practice, this means that the high Court only considers a tiny fraction of cases submitted to it for review.
Appealing a criminal case is an extremely complicated process. Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be many appeals, and many courts may consider and make a ruling on your case before your case reaches its end. If you are considering appealing your conviction, you need an advocate on your side who is familiar with the criminal appeals process.
Please click here to learn more about the process of appealing your criminal case. The attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are experienced in fighting for their clients in State and Federal courts, and are well-versed in appellate procedures and strategies. If you have been convicted of a crime and need to appeal your case, contact the attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC today. The deadline to give Notice of your appeal is short, so do not delay. Call Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or Contact Us Here for a free consultation to see what we can do for you.