If a defendant has been convicted of a crime in state superior court or federal district court, he or she is entitled to appeal the conviction. An appellate court will review the case and determine whether any errors occurred at the trial that would entitle the defendant to relief. For example, if there was not enough evidence introduced at trial to support the conviction, an appellate court might reverse the conviction. If the trial judge erred in admitting evidence, instructing the jury, or making any other legal ruling, the appellate court will determine if the error significantly impacted the trial and, if so, may award the defendant a new trial.
In North Carolina state court, the defendant may appeal his or her conviction to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The parties will file a record of all the trial documents and transcripts with the court, and will submit legal briefs. A three-judge panel will review the case and determine whether any errors were made during the trial, and determine what type of relief is appropriate. If the judges unanimously agree that the defendant is not entitled to relief, the defendant may ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the case in its discretion. If the judges disagree on whether the defendant is entitled to relief, the defendant is automatically entitled to appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court. If the case reaches the North Carolina Supreme Court, a seven-judge panel will review the case.
In federal court, the defendant may appeal his or her conviction to the United States Court of Appeals. This court is divided into thirteen different circuits that are assigned to hear cases in different parts of the country. Cases arising out of North Carolina are heard by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Richmond, Virginia. A three-judge panel will review the case, determine whether the trial judge committed any errors, and order any appropriate relief. If the defendant loses the appeal, he or she may petition for the case to be re-heard before all of the judges on the Fourth Circuit.
If the defendant loses his state appeal at the North Carolina Supreme Court, or if the defendant loses a federal appeal at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the defendant may petition the United States Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court receives over 7,000 petitions to review cases each year, and agrees to hear approximately 100 of those cases. Because of its limited caseload, the Supreme Court will only review criminal cases that involve important or unresolved federal constitutional questions. If your case reaches the United States Supreme Court, the full nine-justice panel will hear and decide your case.
State and federal appeals are regulated by complex procedural rules. If a defendant does not closely follow the deadlines and other important requirements outlined in the rules, he or she may lose the right to appeal the case or face other types of sanctions. For that reason, it is important to have an appellate attorney who knows how to navigate the state and federal appellate process. Our attorneys have the experience necessary to help you successfully appeal your conviction. A defendant has only a few days to file an appeal after he or she is convicted, so contact our office today for a consultation on your particular case.