People who are trying to get their criminal conviction reversed or overturned often contact us at our criminal defense firm here in Atlanta. Sometimes, they are trying to help a friend or loved one. Often, the people who contact us are a little confused about the appellate process and how we prepare the written Brief for the appellate courts. I am currently working on appeals in both the Georgia Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Working on these two matters made me realize that I often spend a lot of time explaining the process or procedures to the folks calling our firm, and this realization made me wish that their original lawyers took the time to explain it all to the family or friends of the person who got convicted of a crime.
To begin with, many people think that when they appeal their case they get to argue all over again as to whether they are guilty of a particular crime. For the most part, this is not true. An appellate court does not decide guilty/not guilty. Instead, a court of appeals mostly decides whether the process that led up to the guilty verdict was fair. There are some cases where we raise what is called the “sufficiency of the evidence.” In these cases, we are NOT claiming that the jury was “wrong.” Instead, in this type of appeal we are claiming that the trial judge was wrong for even letting the jury make a decision, because the evidence was legally insufficient. This might seem like the same thing, but it is significantly different. The important thing to remember is that appeals for the most part focus on whether the trial judge (or prosecutor, or defense lawyer) did his or her job correctly.