You or a loved one has been convicted of a crime in Dallas, Texas, and received a prison sentence. Now, what do you do?
Unless the defendant has given up the right to appeal as part of a plea bargain, a criminal defendant in Texas has the right to appeal to the court of appeals for the region serving the county where the trial court was located. For example, cases from Collin, Dallas, Grayson, Hunt, Kaufman, and Rockwall Counties are appealed to the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.
In my experience as a criminal defense attorney, most people do not understand what a criminal appeal involves. Many people think that an appeal is almost like a second opinion—that you can just try to see if you can convince another judge or judges to change the result. This is not the case at all. Our legal system does not want trial courts to be second-guessed and cases to have to go to trial over and over. For this reason, the law of appeals generally says that what happened at the trial court cannot be overturned on appeal unless there was a serious problem that affected the fundamental fairness of the trial. Put another way, on many issues, even if the appeals court judges might disagree with what happened at the trial court, they will not overturn it if reasonable people could differ.
An appeals lawyer, therefore, has to know what kinds of issues can potentially change the outcome. Jury instructions that are legally incorrect are often the basis for an appeal. After the evidence is over, a judge instructs the jury on the law they must apply to the evidence. If the judge gets the law wrong, the jury would be applying an incorrect standard to the evidence at trial.
Another frequent basis for an appeal is that the evidence at trial fails to prove an essential element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, according to the law. This kind of argument, however, requires a showing that NO reasonable jury could find that element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Another important area for criminal appeals is that the judge improperly allowed the jury to hear evidence or improperly prevented the defense from bringing evidence before the jury. On appeal, the appeals lawyer must be able to convince the appeals court not only that the judge made an error, but also that the error significantly harmed the defense of the case.
Criminal appeals in Texas are part science and part art. The science is in knowing what kinds of issues to raise based on the law of appeals. The art involves persuasion—convincing the court of appeals that the issue means that the result at trial needs to be changed. This mostly involves legal writing. The bulk of an appeals lawyer’s work involves writing “briefs”—written arguments—to the court of appeals. Whereas trial lawyers do most of their work in court by speaking, appeals lawyers do most of their important work in writing. For this reason, someone who might be able to charm a jury at trial with their speaking skills might not be a good writer, and therefore might not be a good appeals lawyer.
If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime in Texas, consult with an experienced criminal appeals lawyer in Dallas right away. There are strict time limits on filing appeals, so do not wait. I am often contacted about appeals months or years after a criminal conviction, when it is too late for an appeal. Do not let this happen. Contact an appeals lawyer immediately.
Dallas Appeals Attorney John Helms
T: (214) 666-8010