« Back To Blog Posts

The Reality of the Appeals Process

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s newsworthy conviction in the Boston Marathon bombings has awakened much frustration, ignorance, and, most of all, confusion about the appeals process and its role in the judicial system. And though he has received the most severe capital punishment, much of the American public fumes at the idea of our court system entertaining Tsarnaev any longer.

Of course, anger is understandable. But many Americans misunderstand the rights and the process involved with an appeal. That’s why the professional attorneys at Manning Law feel some people may be interested in what an appeal is, what the law requires of an appeal, when and where you can appeal a conviction, and how often an appeal is actually successful.

It is important to note that Tsarnaev’s case is a federal issue litigated and potentially appealed in federal courts. State issues fall into state jurisdictions, thus playing out in state courts, and some rare cases are taken through the federal appeals avenue. However, the following is only general information that tends to apply to the appeals process on all judicial levels–municipal, state, and federal.

What is an appeal?

Simply put, an appeal is a request sent to a higher court of law for a review of a lower court’s decision based on the law and procedure relevant to that factual pattern and decision. The party that loses a trial motion or trial itself will typically appeal the decision of that court and ask the higher court to reverse or vacate a conviction or sentence, and in some cases order the lower court to revisit a specific issue in compliance with the higher court’s ruling.

When can you appeal a court decision?

In criminal law, usually only a party that had been disadvantaged somehow in the process or end result chooses to appeal a court’s decision. However there a few crucial points to remember when considering an appeal:

  • You must usually demonstrate that the judgment was reached due to some error of law or procedure, or misconduct by the prosecutor, judge, jury, or other player resulted in the erroneous decision and outcome of the case.
  • You can only appeal once your judgment is officially entered. Typically, this occurs in open court upon the judge’s order. Furthermore, once your judgment is entered, an appeal must be filed within specific times, which vary across state and federal jurisdictions.

Do appeals work?

This is a question we get a lot, and each time we hear it we stress the difficulty of a successful appeal in which you get the lower court’s decision reversed. In fact, 2013 data released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts revealed that a whopping 80.4% of all appeals to each of the U.S. Courts of Appeals were denied/unsuccessful. This statistic is why we stress the importance of consulting with an experienced attorney before deciding to commit resources and additional expense towards an appeal of your case.

Know every single option

Appeals are delicate legal decisions which sometimes have groundbreaking consequences, and the decision to appeal should only be based on the advice of a skilled lawyer. The good news is that the experienced federal defense attorneys at The Offices of the Manning Law Firm are assertive, instinctive, loyal representatives for our clients, and we can make sure you achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Contact us today for the defense you deserve.

Taylor Manning
The content on this page was reviewed by Manning Law Firm, PLLC partner Taylor Manning. You can learn more about Taylor's experience and expertise on his bio page.