Appeal Remedies in California State Criminal Cases

During the course of a California State criminal prosecution, many decisions are made which substantially affect the rights of the defendant. These include decisions by the judge, such as whether to grant or deny a suppression motion, a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, a demurrer, or other motion, whether the judge will recuse him or herself, among others.

The jury also makes critical decisions should the case proceed to trial. Most importantly, the jury will render a verdict of guilty or not guilty for each of the charges brought against the defendant.

They may also be called upon, in a particular type of case, to find true or untrue certain special allegations or enhancements. Many of these decisions can be appealed to a higher court or even to a Federal court.

Which appellate remedies are available, what procedural deadlines and steps are needed to pursue them, and the likelihood of success on appeal depend on the particular facts and circumstances of each case.

This page from our federal criminal defense lawyers discusses some common appellate remedies and provides examples of when each might be pursued by a criminal defendant facing charges in California State Court.

Direct Appeal to the California Court of Appeals

The most common form of appeal is a direct appeal following conviction at a jury trial to the California Court of Appeals. A direct appeal may raise legal challenges to rulings made by the trial court which prejudiced the defendant such as erroneous jury instructions or evidentiary rulings.

A direct appeal might also raise issues of biased jurors or jurors engaged in misconduct which should have resulted in a mistrial. A direct appeal also commonly asserts that there was insufficient evidence from which to find the defendant guilty.

This is an extremely high standard – essentially, the defendant must show that no reasonable jury could have convicted them based on the evidence presented at trial.

If denied, a direct appeal can be further appealed to the California Supreme Court.  Any legal issues raised in the direct appeal, if denied by the Court of Appeals, can potentially be raised in a writ of habeas corpus addressed to a Federal court.

Interlocutory Writs Appeal

Interlocutory writs are another vehicle to appeal trial court orders. The most common forms of writs are writs of prohibition and writs of mandate. Essentially, a writ is a direction from a higher court to a lower court to either do something (mandate) or refrain from doing something (prohibition).

Writs differ from direct appeals in that they are typically brought before final judgement, that is, while the case is still pending in the trial court and has not yet been brought to trial.

One of the most common circumstances in which writs are filed is when a trial court denies a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence based on constitutional rights violations.

Because the evidence which the defendant argued should be suppressed will often be highly prejudicial if introduced at trial, it makes strategic sense to appeal the denial of the suppression motion before proceedings to trial to attempt to have the suppression ruling reversed.

Writs of Habeas Corpus

Writs of habeas corpus are often the last resort for criminal defendants who have been convicted and sentenced. By definition, a writ of habeas corpus asserts that the defendant is being wrongfully detained – i.e. some constitutional right of the defendant has been violated which led to his or her incarceration. Writs of habeas corpus have several benefits over direct appeals.

First, there is no fixed time period by which a habeas petition must be filed. However, appellate courts do not look favorably on writs of habeas corpus which could have been, but were not, filed in a timely fashion.

Second, a writ of habeas corpus related to a California state criminal prosecution can be brought in federal court, where the defendant might feel that they will receive a more favorable hearing on his or her constitutional challenges.

Writs of habeas corpus generally do not challenge the factual basis for the jury’s decision to convict. Rather, they raise legal issues such as Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth amendment rights violations, ineffective assistance of counsel, etc.

In practice, a writ of habeas corpus is often filed as a last resort after direct appeals have been denied at every level of the state appellate court process.

Retain an Experienced California Appellate Lawyer

If you, or someone you know, is interested in filing an appeal – either before or after final judgment – in a California state criminal case, please contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation.  We have a track record of success in many types of appeal situations. The legal rules and procedures in appealing a criminal case are complex and time sensitive. You need an appellate attorney with experience and knowledge in this area of law. Contact us at 877-781-1570.