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What to Expect During the Appeals Process

When your trial does not go as planned, and you don’t get the outcome you hoped for, you may have the option to appeal your case. When you appeal a case, you’re asking the appellate court to review the decision made by the trial court. 

The appeals process is much different than the trial process, which can make it much more stressful. For this reason, it’s helpful to understand what you could expect during your appeal. 

The Appeals Process: How It Works

To get your appeal started, you must act quickly. You only have 20 days after your conviction is entered to file a notice of intent. While this time restriction can be extended, it’s best to decide quickly and file immediately.

Appeals are different than trial-level proceedings, and some cases are appealed all on paper without ever going back to court. Anyone who has been convicted can file a timely postconviction motion in the trial court. This is an opportunity to present new issues or information necessary to decide the appeal. Some claims must be raised in a postconviction motion filed in the trial court, such as ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Motions for plea withdrawal and sentence modification must also be raised in the trial court. The circuit court has 60 days to rule on a postconviction motion following its filing. However, this 60-day period is typically extended to allow for the circuit court to conduct any necessary hearings and for the parties to complete any additional briefing that is ordered by the court.

If your postconviction motion is denied, you may appeal the circuit court’s decision. Other cases where the issues and necessary facts have already been preserved and presented can be appealed directly to the court of appeals. In either event, to proceed to an appeal in the court of appeals, your attorney will need to file a notice of appeal. In the court of appeals, all of the argument is typically done on paper. The court of appeals may order oral argument, but this is rare.

Once your notices are filed, your attorney will draft an appellate brief on your behalf. This document lays out the facts of the case, the legal grounds for review, and your arguments. Your appellate brief is one of the most critical parts of your case.

The District Court of Appeals will review your appellate brief. Depending on the situation, the court may rule on the case based on their briefs or oral arguments. The court can choose to affirm, reverse, or modify a ruling, or it can remand the case. 

Do Appeals Take a Long Time?

The appeals process can be lengthy. It’s best to be prepared to wait and have patience, as challenging as it may be. 

After your conviction and filing a notice of intent, your attorney can get started on your case. Lawyers begin by obtaining transcripts and the court record from the trial court, as well as your file from your trial counsel, which could take two or more months. Once they have the transcripts, the court record, and your trial file, attorneys take about an additional two months or so to review these materials and file either a postconviction motion or a notice of appeal.

If your case requires further litigation in the circuit court, such litigation of a postconviction motion may take considerable time.

Once in the court of appeals, your attorney then drafts and files their brief, and after the state responds, they file a reply brief. The most time-consuming part of the appeals process is waiting for the court to review the briefs, which could take many months or a year or more.

Waiting can be hard, a fact that your attorney understands. While they can’t speed up the process, your attorney can keep you informed about everything going on with your case to help ease any anxiety you might feel. 

An Experienced Appellate Attorney Can Support Your Appeal

Appeals are not easy, and there are no guaranteed outcomes. Still, hiring a lawyer can give you the best chance for a successful appeal. A skilled criminal appellate attorney can thoroughly explain your options and fight diligently to attain the best possible outcome in your case.