Defendant’s Right To Appeal

The right to a trial by jury is the most fundamental constitutional right a criminal defendant is granted. Upon a conviction after a jury trial, a defendant has the right to appeal a finding of guilt. In order for an appellate court to hear an appeal from a lower court the aggrieved party must demonstrate to the appellate court that an error was made at the trial level. The error must have been substantial. “Harmless errors,” or those unlikely to make a substantial impact on the result at trial, are not grounds for reversing the judgment of a lower court. Any error, defect, irregularity, or variance, which does not affect substantial rights is disregarded.

Assuming that there was no harmless error, there are two basic grounds for appeal: 1) the lower court made a serious error of law (plain error) and 2) the weight of the evidence does not support the verdict.

Plain error is an error or defect that affects the defendant’s substantial rights, even though the parties did not bring this error or defect to the judge’s attention during trial. Of course, some plain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the court. In any event, plain error will form a basis for an appeal of a criminal conviction.

It is much more difficult to prevail in an appeal based on the alleged insufficient weight of evidence. Although appellate courts review the transcripts of trials, they almost never hear actual testimony of witnesses, view the presentation of evidence, or hear the parties’ opening and closing arguments. Consequently, they are not in the best position to assess the weight of evidence in many cases. For this reason they place much confidence in trial courts’ decisions on issues of facts. In an appeal based on an alleged insufficient weight of evidence to support a verdict, the error or misjudgment of evidence must truly be egregious for a defendant to expect to prevail on appeal.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Mental Health and the Law

The American justice system protects those are found to be mentally incompetent, and seeks help for such defendants. Criminal defendants who are found to be legally insane cannot be convicted of charges arising from a particular mental disability. Depending on the jurisdiction, Courts use one of several legal tests to determine whether a defendant actually is legally insane. They two  main tests include the Model Penal Code Test and and the M’Naghten Rule.

Washington state uses the M’Naghten rule. The M’Naghten Rule focuses on whether a criminal defendant knew the nature of the crime or understood right from wrong at the time it was committed. The defendant must meet one of the two distinct criteria. Some courts differ as to whether the “wrong” in question refers to moral or legal wrong, or if it refers to both. Additionally, some states have eliminated the first part of the test in which a defendant is ruled legally insane for not fully understanding what he or she has done.

The rule which was established by the English House of Lords in the mid-19th Century, states:

“Every man is to be presumed to be sane, and … that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, and not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

An example of this occurred several years ago, when a man murdered his wife and daughter, and then waited calmly for the police to arrive. Three mental health experts testified that he was too psychologically ill to understand that his criminal acts were wrong. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to 10 years in a mental health facility.

Another example was when a woman with severe schizophrenia is charged with assault and battery after attacking her next door neighbor with a shovel. She claims the neighbor was actually a demon who was trying to harvest her soul. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity after the court determined that she failed to understand the nature of her actions.

This particular test for legal insanity has been challenged for a number of reasons. Some have argued that defendants meeting the legal definition of insanity do always meet the medical criteria for insanity, but are sentenced to mandatory medical care anyway. Another criticism is that it fails to distinguish between defendants posing a public danger and those who do not, or between temporary mental issues and lifelong conditions.

Additionally, some have argued that this rule makes it too easy for a defendant with a severe mental disorder to escape responsibility for any crimes, regardless of how big a role the disorder played in the incident.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Pleading Guilty

The majority of criminal cases are resolved through a “plea bargain”, usually well before the case ever reaches trial. Many have heard this term, but only a few have a good understanding of what a plea bargain actually is? In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge than one for which the defendant could stand trial, in exchange for a more lenient sentence. A lenient sentence may include the government agreeing to suspend all of the jail time on a particular charge, in exchange for a defendant agreeing to engage in some sort of treatment (i.e. alcohol/drug treatment, mental health treatment etc.), community service or other court ordered conditions. Many times a plea bargain includes an agreement in which the government agrees to dismiss certain related charges. For both the defendant and the government, the decision to enter into a plea bargain is based on the seriousness of the alleged crime, the evidence in the case, and the likeliness of a guilty verdict at trial. Plea bargains are generally encouraged by the courts and are necessary due to the sheer number of criminal cases that are filed each year.

A plea bargain in itself is essentially an agreement in a criminal case between the defendant and the prosecutor, which usually involves the defendant pleading guilty to a crime in order to receive a lesser sentence. In most cases, judges are respectful and appreciative of the fact that the parties involved have worked out a resolution without having to go through a costly trial. Therefore, a judge will typically follow the recommendation made by the parties at the time of sentencing, unless a plea involves a non-agreed sentencing recommendation.

One may ask who a plea bargain truly benefits, but there are many justifications for the reason why the majority of the criminal cases are resolved by way of a plea. These justifications include the fact that the courts are crowded and if plea bargains were not allowed, it could overwhelm the entire court system. Additionally, prosecutors’ caseloads are also overloaded and less trials means that the prosecutor can effectively prosecute the most serious cases that come through the system. Last, defendants save time and money by not having to defend themselves at trial and most times gain certain benefits by accepting a plea offer.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Murder

In most states, first-degree murder is defined as an unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was committed after planning or “lying in wait” for the victim.

Most states also adhere to a legal concept known as the “felony murder rule,” under which a person commits first-degree murder if any death (even an accidental one) results from the commission of certain violent felonies — such as arson, burglary, kidnapping, rape, and robbery.

Each crime has elements which a Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant. State laws categorizing murders into first, second and possibly third degrees generally require that first degree murders include three basic elements: willfulness, deliberation and premeditation. Some states also require “malice aforethought” as an element, though states differ as to how malice must be shown and whether this is a separate requirement from willful, deliberate and premeditated taking of human life. Most states also enumerate certain kinds of killings as first degree murders without need to prove intent, deliberation and premeditation.

In terms of willfulness, first degree murderers must have the specific intent to end a human life. This intent does not necessarily have to have been focused on the actual victim. A murder in which the killer intends to kill but kills the wrong person or a random person would still constitute first degree murder. Furthermore, under many state laws, killing through action showing a depraved indifference to human life can qualify as murder in the first degree.

Whether a killer acted with the deliberation and premeditation required for first degree murder can only be determined on a case by case basis. The need for deliberation and premeditation does not mean that the perpetrator must contemplate at length or plan far ahead of the murder. Time enough to form the conscious intent to kill and then act on it after enough time for a reasonable person to second guess the decision typically suffices. While this can happen very quickly, deliberation and premeditation must occur before, and not at the same time as, the act of killing.

Under many state laws, perpetrators of first degree murder must have acted with malice or “malice aforethought.” Malice generally includes an evil disposition or purpose and an indifference to human life. States treat the concept of “malice” differently. Under some laws, malice aforethought essentially means the same thing as acting with a premeditated intent to kill or extreme indifference to human life. Other states require a showing of malice distinct from the willfulness, deliberation and premeditation generally required for first degree murder.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

What Are Property Crimes?

One of the more common crimes that are filed in criminal courts across the United States are property crimes. Property crimes include many common crimes relating to theft or destruction of property. They can range from lower level misdemeanor offenses such as shoplifting or malicious mischief to high-level felonies including armed robbery, arson or burglary. Some such crimes do not require the offender to make off with stolen goods or even to harm a victim. For example, the crime of burglary only requires unlawful entry with the intent to commit a crime. Others require the actual taking of money or property. Robbery requires a victim to be present at the time of the crime. Most property crimes include a spectrum of degrees depending on factors including the amount stolen and use of force or arms in theft related cases, and bodily injury in property destruction crimes such as arson.

There are several defenses to property crimes. The most commonly used is lack of intent to commit a crime. Typically, a person intends to steal something, but it also is burglary to enter a building with the intent to commit another crime, such as assaulting and causing injury to someone inside. Property crimes do not typically require the intended crime to be successfully completed. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant entered the structure for the purpose of committing theft or another felony.

A conviction for a property crime comes with several possible penalties, though the possible sentences for such convictions differ widely among states and the type of charge it is. Depending on the jurisdiction as well as the circumstances, property crimes may either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and a judge would sentence the defendant accordingly based upon the agreed upon sentencing recommendations between the defense and the prosecutor. Judges will also consider the statutory ranges in addition to any aggravating and mitigating factors that might be present in the case. Typically, a property crime conviction carries a wide range of incarceration options including years in prison, a large fine, court-mandated restitution to the victim and a lengthy probation period.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.