The chances of winning a criminal appeal in California are low (about 20 percent of appeals are successful). But the odds of success are greater if there were errors of law and procedure at trial significant enough to have affected the outcome of the case.
A guilty verdict or conviction in court is not necessarily the end.
California’s appellate process allows you to appeal a criminal conviction or trial court decision. Sometimes this can open the door for
- a new trial and
- a second chance at acquittal.
Much depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. A lot rides on the skill and strategy of the attorney handling the appeal.
In the article below, our appellate lawyers1 will discuss the factors that can increase the odds of a successful appeal.
How does the criminal appeals process work in California?
Your conviction will not be overturned simply because you claim that:
- you were unfairly convicted,
- the judge/jury had it in for you,
- the evidence against you was bogus, or
- you are innocent.
Your conviction will only be overturned if you can prove that
- a legal error occurred during (or prior to) the trial proceedings, and
- it contributed to an unjust conviction/sentence.
An appeal is not a new trial/retrial of the case. An appeal is a request for a higher court (that is, an appellate court) to review a decision of a lower court (that is, the Superior Court, frequently referred to as the trial court).
This means that the appellate court will not
- evaluate new evidence or
- determine whether or not you are guilty/innocent.
The only job of the appellate court is to decide
- whether the trial court made a legal error and
- if so, whether the result may have been different had the error not occurred.
What are the types of legal errors that the appellate court will review?
What are the grounds on which to appeal a criminal conviction?
The specific grounds on which you can appeal a California conviction vary case by case. Regardless of the facts of your case, the grounds must be based on a legal error as opposed to a factual error.
The attorneys, judge, or jury makes a legal error when their mistake goes against California law. Examples of legal errors include (but are not limited to):
- a judge permitting the jury to hear evidence that never should have been admitted,
- a prosecutor acting unethically, and
- a jury considering facts outside of the evidence to reach its verdict.
By contrast, the appeals court generally will not “second guess” a judge/jury regarding factual determinations such as:
- witness credibility,
- whether to believe one witness over another, or
- the value of a particular piece of evidence.
Even if the appellate court concludes that the trial court did commit a legal error, that legal error alone is not enough to justify a reversal.
The legal error must have been “prejudicial,” which means that the legal error probably made a difference in the outcome of your case.
How does a good appeals lawyer convince the appellate court that a legal error occurred and that it was in fact prejudicial?
How can I increase my odds of success?
First, your attorney knows California’s appellate law and how the system works. You should not turn to
- a trial lawyer or
- a general practitioner
for a criminal appeal.
As California criminal appeals lawyer John Murray2 explains,
“The laws that govern California appeals differ significantly from those that govern trials. An attorney who tries to appeal a case without an intricate understanding of those differences will surely jeopardize his/her client’s chances of success.”
This knowledge includes having a thorough understanding of how to appeal a California criminal conviction. There are specific rules that dictate exactly how an appeal must be filed. These rules govern everything
- from the presentation of the written arguments (known as “briefs”)
- to the timeframes and deadlines by which you must submit your California appeal.3
It also includes knowing where to file the appeal. You file California misdemeanor appeals with the “Appellate Division of the Superior Court” and file California felony appeals with the California Court of Appeal.
If your original case was a federal case, you file your appeal with the United States Court of Appeals.4
Second, your attorney must
- know how to comb through the trial court records and
- be able to recognize the types of prejudicial errors that appellate courts will find most compelling.
They should have mastered the art of framing the appellate issues in a way that leaves the appeals court with no choice but to overturn your conviction.
Third, your lawyer must know how to seek further avenues of recourse should the appeals court side against you. If your initial appeal is “affirmed” (which means that the trial court’s proceedings remain intact) you may appeal it further to an even higher court.
- If your case is a California state case, you file this appeal with the Supreme Court of California.
- If your case is a federal case, you file this appeal with the United States Supreme Court.
The California Supreme Court will only accept certain cases and only if those cases are properly filed within the designated timeframes.5 This is why having an attorney who is well-versed with California’s appeal laws is critical: Failure to abide by these rules will result in an automatic rejection of your case.
The bottom line is that your chances of overturning your California criminal conviction are only as good as your appellate attorney. Even if you have a strong case, the failure to present your appeal in a timely fashion or in a convincing manner will undoubtedly hinder your chances.6
If you or a loved one is in need of help with appeals and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact our criminal appellate lawyers at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a consultation in office or by phone.
We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
- Our California criminal appellate attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities. We invite you to contact us to help improve your chances of overturning your California conviction.
- California appellate lawyer John Murray represents clients seeking appeals in the South Bay (including Long Beach and Torrance) as well as throughout Orange County, including Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Anaheim and Westminster.
- The rules for California appeals are set forth in California Rules of Court Title 8.
- See California Penal Code 1466 – Judgments and orders; appealable.
- California Penal Code 1235, subdivision (b) — Questions of law alone; appeal by either party; application of title.
- California Rules of Court, Division 1, Chapter 9, Rule 8.500 — Petition for review.