Criminal State Appeals in California


What is the Process for a California Criminal Appeal?


The California criminal appeals process begins immediately after a defendant is convicted and issued a sentence by the trial courts of California. These courts are formally known as the Superior Courts of California, where initial judgement by a plea deal, bench, or jury trial, is made. Once a sentence is issued, if a defendant feels that their sentence was unjust because there were substantial errors that occurred in court by either of the attorneys, the jury, or even the judge, he or she may have a valid claim to file a notice of appeal to their case. Common errors in trial court include but are not limited to: a defense attorney providing negligent assistance to their client, a prosecutor acting unethically in legal proceedings, whether evidence was either improperly admitted or excluded by the judge, or whether a judge exploited their discretion of power when issuing a sentence to the defendant. If a defendant believes a similar issue of error occurred in their criminal case, they can then have their legal counsel file a notice of appeal. 

What is a Notice of Appeal?

A notice of appeal is the initial paperwork filed by a defendant that informs the courts and the prosecution that the defendant is appealing the decision in their case. From that point on, the defendant appealing that case will be known as the appellant, while the prosecution will be known as the appellee. The appellant, however, must make the decision to file a notice of appeal quickly. For misdemeanor cases, the deadline to file a notice of appeal is 30 days after sentencing. For felony cases, the deadline to file is 60 days after sentencing. If the deadline to file the notice is not met, it is extremely unlikely that the courts will allow the appeal to move forward. 

Where is the Notice of Appeal Filed?

Furthermore, misdemeanors and felonies warrant different locations to file notices of appeal. If the appellant's case is a misdemeanor then the notice of appeal is filed in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court where the case was originally decided. Meanwhile, felonies are filed with the California Court of Appeals. After the notice is filed, regardless of location, the trial court is then ordered to create two transcripts of legal record, one by the court reporter which contains the dialogue that occurred in all court proceedings, and another by the court clerk that contains items such as legal exhibits, motions, and communications with the judge and jury. Once the appellant attorney receives all of these documents, it is then their burden to file the initial appellant brief. 

Appellant Brief and Possible Relief

In this extensive brief, the appellant’s attorney would detail any errors of judgement made by the trial court that are supported by summaries of fact from the transcripts. In citing these errors, the appellant attorney would also indicate statutes, case law, and other regulations that would further purport their position in the brief. Most importantly, however, the appellant attorney would state what form of relief he or she is seeking from the court. Although relief varies on a case by case basis, common forms of relief include: a reversal of conviction, partial reversal that results in further proceedings in trial court, or possibly the issuing of a new sentence entirely. Finally, once the appellant attorney’s state appeal brief is complete, he or she will submit it with the proper court of appeals. 

Respondent Brief and Reply Brief

 In response to the appellant’s opening brief, the attorney for the appellee (the prosecution), will then file a respondent brief in which they address issues raised by the appellant and attempt to justify why these legal errors were made in securing the conviction originally. In some criminal appeal cases, the respondent brief may ignore the issues raised by the appellant completely and claim there was no error at all in court proceedings, or acknowledge that even if there was, it was miniscule and did not affect the overall outcome of the case. Once the appellee submits their brief, the appellant attorney then has an additional opportunity to file what is known as a reply brief. In this second brief, the appellant attorney may not raise any new or additional issues to the appeals court, but instead may respond to the concerns or points that the appellee attorney has made. Because the appellant attorney has the responsibility of establishing proof in justifying their client’s relief, this second brief is often critical to objecting to points that were not initially addressed in the appellant’s first brief. 

Oral Argument and the Court's Ruling

Once both parties have completed original briefs, the appellant attorney may have the opportunity to orally argue their case in front of the appellate court if the court allows it. While it is not required to set oral argument, and it is acceptable to allow briefs to speak for themselves, it can be beneficial to verbally persuade the court of the appellant’s position. Oral argument is very short and set for a maximum of 10 minutes at the Appellate Division of a Superior Court, and 30 minutes at the California Court of Appeals. During this time, the appellant attorney would highlight the absolute most important points from his or her brief and allow the remaining time to come from answering questions of the judges on the appeals court. 


After oral argument has passed or the judges have reviewed the briefs and made a decision without the appellant attorney’s interest in oral argument, a ruling will come down from the appellate court. Once this ruling is issued, if the appellant’s client is still unhappy with the ruling put forth, the appellant can file a petition for rehearing from the same court of appeals. This petition would address issues that the appellate court may have made in crafting their appeals decision. On the other hand, an appellant attorney could file a motion for review to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, however, the California Supreme Court can choose to deny this review and make the judgement by the court of appeals final. 


Call Us to Handle Your Criminal Appeal

What should be taken away from the California Appeals Process is that it is lengthy and requires an experienced appellate attorney to handle everything after a defendant’s initial conviction. Achieving any form of relief from the court of appeals is a difficult task and must be addressed by individuals with adequate experience. The appellate attorneys at Kenney Legal Defense have over 20 years of experience in dealing with the California Court of Appeals and the appeals process in general. If you or know someone who has recently been convicted of a crime, contact Kenney Legal Defense at (855) 505-5588 before it’s too late!