The legal journey does not end when an individual is convicted and sentenced. We are frequently retained by clients seeking to overturn their convictions or reduce their sentences on direct appeal. The goal of any direct appeal is to persuade the appellate court that a serious legal error occurred during our client’s trial or sentencing hearing which tainted the result and warrants relief. Depending on the type of legal error claimed, such relief could be in the form of (1) a new trial, (2) the dismissal of the criminal charges, or (3) a new sentencing hearing.
Any number of legal errors may occur during trial which constitute grounds for a new trial. They include the erroneous denial of a pre-trial motion to dismiss or to suppress, the erroneous exclusion of evidence important to our client’s defense, or the erroneous admission of harmful evidence. The trial judge may err when selecting the jury or when instructing the jurors about controlling law at the end of the trial. Misconduct by the prosecutor may also constitute grounds for appellate relief. If it appears that the prosecution has not presented enough evidence to prove every essential element of the criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt, such a claim could be brought on direct appeal. If successful, the conviction and sentence would be vacated, the criminal charge dismissed, and a re-trial on that charge prohibited. If the judge or the prosecutor erred during the sentencing phase, such a claim may be raised on direct appeal and, if successful, another sentencing hearing may be ordered.
Our initial task on direct appeal is to comb the entire record, including all of the pretrial motions, rulings, pretrial hearing transcripts, and the trial transcript, in order to identify all potential issues to be raised on our client’s behalf. Having identified the potential issues, we then conduct extensive research, reviewing the Constitutional provisions, statutes, rules, regulations, and, in particular, the ever-expanding body of judicial decisions which interpret these authorities and set out principles to guide the trial and sentencing processes. The strongest of the claims based on the facts of the case and applicable law are briefed for submission to the appellate court. The “brief” presents us with our first opportunity to persuade the appellate court that a serious legal error occurred which entitles our client to relief. The “reply brief,” which responds to the prosecution’s claims, is the second. In the typical case, we have a third opportunity — oral argument. At oral argument, we present our claims to a panel of judges, answering any questions that they may pose about the facts or law. The prosecution also has the chance to present its argument and answer questions. The appellate court then issues a written opinion deciding our claims and, ultimately, whether our client is entitled to relief. If unsuccessful, we may have the opportunity to present our claims to a higher appellate court.
Rankin & Sultan is widely-recognized for its expertise and experience in the field of criminal appeals. Over the years, we have won numerous appeals in both state and federal appellate courts. While no one can guarantee a particular result in any judicial proceeding, we can assure our clients that we will devote passion, creativity, diligence, and judgment to the complex and demanding task of appellate representation to maximize the likelihood of a successful outcome.