Appealing a Criminal Conviction Explained

The right to a trial by jury is the most fundamental constitutional right a criminal defendant is granted. Upon a conviction after a trial, a defendant has the right to appeal a finding of guilt. In order for a court of appeals 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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Defending Yourself

In order to convict you of a criminal charge, the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a pretty lofty standard, and during any trial the defendant may present a defense in order to raise such a reasonable doubt. Most defenses break down into one of two categories: (1) I didn’t do it or (2) I did it, but I shouldn’t be held responsible. The most basic defense to any criminal charge is to simply prove that you didn’t do it.

One of the hallmarks of the American legal system is the presumption that you are innocent until proven guilty. This is not just an ideal, it’s an actual legal presumption, which means the judge and jury must assume you’re innocent until they are shown otherwise. This is why a defendant can “plead the fifth,” remain silent, and not offer a shred of evidence to support his or her claim of innocence and still prevail. It is the prosecutor’s job to prove a defendant is guilty, not a defendant’s job to prove that he or she is innocent. So what does a prosecutor have to show?

The prosecutor must demonstrate to the judge or jury that there is no reasonable doubt of your guilt. If any reasonable doubt can be shown, any at all, then the prosecutor has failed and you should be found innocent. Because this standard is so high, most defendants concentrate on raising some reasonable doubt to the prosecutor’s allegations.

One of the primary ways defendants prove that they didn’t do it is to demonstrate that they couldn’t have done it. An alibi defense is evidence that you were somewhere else, often with someone else, and thus couldn’t have been the perpetrator. By demonstrating to a judge or jury that it is likely that you weren’t present at the crime scene, you are creating a reasonable doubt of your guilt.

Many defendants admit that they did the act, but claim for one reason or another, that they shouldn’t be held responsible. Here are a few examples of this type of defense:

This is a common defense when someone is charged with causing some form of physical violence (assault, battery, etc). The defendant flips the story, and demonstrates that rather than being the aggressor, he or she was actually the victim and was acting to protect themselves from harm.

Self-defense is an ancient defense that exists in most legal systems, and is predicated on the belief that people have a right to defend themselves from physical injury. Proving such a defense can be tricky since a defendant will generally have to demonstrate that self-defense was necessary, the belief of physical harm was reasonable, and that the response was reasonable. For example, responding to an assailant’s threat to punch you by shooting them is almost certainly an unreasonable response.

Although it makes for fascinating TV dramas, in real life defendants rarely plead insanity as a defense. Judges and jurors are very skeptical of these claims, and because of the abstract nature of this defense, it can be very difficult to actually prove.

The theory behind an insanity defense is the notion that in almost every criminal law, there is a “mental” or “intent” element. Often, the required mental state is that you must have intended to perform the criminal act. If a defendant is precluded from an understanding of what they’re doing because of mental illness, then they can’t possess the mental state that the criminal charge requires. From a policy standpoint, we also tend to think that it would be more appropriate to send someone who is truly insane to psychiatric care, not to prison. Thus, even if a defendant is successful in an insanity defense, they will be sent to a psychiatric institution, not set free.

So how do courts define “insane”? The most popular definition is the McNaughten test which defines insanity as “the inability to distinguish right from wrong”. To successfully win an insanity defense, a defendant will rely on testimony from a psychiatrist, and will undergo extensive psychiatric testing which can be painful and humiliating.

Related to the insanity defense, some defendants defend themselves by claiming that they were under the influence of drugs, and could not have had the mental state necessary to commit the crime. In other words, they were too high to really know what they were doing. Only a few states allow this defense, and even then, it is only a partial defense. At best, it will lower the crime you are convicted of to a lesser crime.

An entrapment defense is appropriate when an official induces you to commit a crime. Common examples of this are prostitution stings or drug sales. The theory is that the government shouldn’t be allowed to push you into committing a crime and then convicting you for it.

This defense won’t be successful if the judge or jury believes you were predisposed to committing the crime, however. So even if an undercover officer offered to sell you illegal drugs, if you have a history of drug use, then an entrapment defense isn’t likely to be successful.

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.

Crime and Punishment

After a criminal defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, a judge will decide on the appropriate punishment during the sentencing phase of a criminal case. In some circumstances, the judge is able to enhance or reduce a sentence based upon factors specific to the crime and the defendant. A sentence may include fines, incarceration, probation, suspended sentence, restitution, community service, and participation in rehabilitation programs. Learn more about sentencing, the kinds of sentences possible in criminal cases, and the factors considered by judges when determining a sentence.

Some states and all federal criminal statutes include mandatory sentencing guidelines that require judges to impose sentences uniformly. Mandatory sentencing schemes are intended to eliminate inconsistency in sentencing practices and often address a public perception of judicial leniency. “Three Strikes” laws are another sort of mandatory sentencing that has been put in place in the federal laws and about half of the states.

These laws provide for mandatory life imprisonment of felons convicted of three crimes where at least one was a serious violent felony. Mandatory sentencing systems and “Three Strikes” laws especially have been the subject of extensive debate. Questions have been raised about the effectiveness and fairness of these laws and challenges to their constitutionality have been brought, though to date none have been successful.

A judge may opt to sentence the defendant to probation or issue a suspended sentence. Probation is usually only available to first-time or low-risk offenders. The defendant is released into the community but must satisfy certain conditions and abide by certain rules. If the defendant fails to comply with the terms of probation the judge may then revoke the probation and send the defendant to jail instead.

Similarly, with a suspended sentence a judge may postpone the imposition or execution of a sentence. If the suspended sentence is conditional this is dependent upon the defendant’s fulfilling certain conditions, often enrollment in a substance abuse program. Learn more about probation, suspended sentences, the rights of those accused of violating the terms of the programs, and other issues that commonly arise in diversionary or alternative sentencing programs.

Another alternative to incarceration involves the defendant paying their debt to society a little more literally. Fines are payments made to the court. A criminal fine serves to punish the offender, help compensate the state for the costs of prosecution, and deter future criminal acts. Sometimes fines are given in place of jail time, particularly for minor crimes and first offenses.

At other times they may be ordered in addition to a jail term. Restitution is another kind of money payment made by the convicted, but in this case the money is paid to a victim in order to compensate for the damage they suffered. For example, a speeding ticket results in a fine collected by the court, while a graffiti artist is ordered to pay restitution to the owner of the building they defaced so that it can be repainted.

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.

Investigating Minors

Everyone knows the iconic phrase “you have the right to remain silent.” It’s usually the first thing that police tell someone when taking them into custody, and it makes up one of the several rights commonly known as “Miranda rights” – that people have when in police custody.

Police must notify a person of their Miranda rights before taking them into custody or interrogating them. If they don’t, they risk having a judge throw out any statements or admissions that the person in custody might make.

Determining the exact point when officers have taken someone into custody can be difficult. Obviously, an arrest constitutes police custody, but other situations can amount to custody even without a formal arrest.

To determine whether law enforcement have placed a person in custody, courts examine the facts of a case based on a “reasonable person” standard. If a reasonable person would feel unrestricted in the scenario, then they haven’t been subjected to custody. If a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, then the police have placed the individual in custody and must notify them of their Miranda rights.

The same rules apply when the situation involves the questioning of minors. The Supreme Court expanded on those rules when it decided that the police must take a person’s age into account when determining whether the circumstances of a case merit a Miranda notification.

The case the Court ruled upon involved a 13 year-old boy possibly linked to two burglaries. A police officer went to his school, removed him from class and placed him in a conference room with the door closed and two school administrators present.

The officer didn’t give the boy a Miranda warning or inform him that he could leave the room at any time prior to the questioning. After the boy admitted to participation in the burglaries, the officer told the young man that he could refuse to answer questions and leave whenever he wanted; the boy stayed and provided further detail about the crimes.

The Supreme Court held that it was improper to deny the request to throw out the boy’s statements to the police because he didn’t receive proper Miranda warnings.

The Court reasoned that because of their relative immaturity and lack of experience, children “cannot be viewed simply as miniature adults.”

Since minors’ comprehension of their situation differs from that of adults, their understanding of when a questioning constitutes a custody will also differ.

Minors may experience more compliance to authority, and therefore may require Miranda notifications in situations that wouldn’t trigger the Miranda requirement for adults.

The Court didn’t decide that the trial court should grant the boy’s request, but only stated that the court improperly denied the request when it failed to consider the boy’s age. The Court ordered the trial judge to reconsider the question, using the boy’s age and surroundings as factors in the decision.

The case results in requiring police officers to exercise more care during the questioning of minors. Since the Supreme Court has determined that courts must consider a person’s age when deciding whether or not that person was in police custody, police officers will need to employ methods that balance an interview subject’s age against the other circumstances of the case, such as where the interview takes place and who else is present in the room.

The decision doesn’t require a Miranda notification for every police questioning of a minor, but it does indicate that courts will scrutinize police interviews of juveniles more carefully in the future.

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.

DNA Evidence Explained

The advent of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) evidence is one of the best examples of how much technology has altered the criminal justice landscape, particularly its use exhonerating the falsely convicted. DNA evidence technically doesn’t pinpoint a single suspect, but rather narrows it down to just a few possibilities within the human population. However, it’s extremely accurate and useful as long as it is handled and analyzed properly.

DNA is the basic building block of life. The information encoded in an organism’s DNA acts as a blueprint for the organism’s biological development and functioning. DNA exists in the cells of all living organisms, and by testing the DNA found in a person’s cell, scientists can come up with a DNA profile for that individual. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of human DNA differs from one individual to the next and, although estimates vary, studies suggest that forensic DNA analysis is roughly 95 percent accurate.

DNA profiling of individuals didn’t even exist, however, until the mid-1980s, when an English scientist, Dr. Alec Jeffreys, discovered that certain areas of the DNA strand contain patterns that repeat many times. The number of these repetitions varies between individuals (except for identical twins, who have the exact same DNA), and Dr. Jeffreys developed a test to measure the variation in length of these repetitions. Using this test, Dr. Jeffreys found that he was able to identify individuals by comparing samples of their DNA. This test that Dr. Jeffreys developed became known as restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP).

RFLP is an accurate and reliable test, but it requires a relatively large amount of DNA to work. Laboratories now use tests based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, which allows for testing on very small amounts of DNA from biological samples.

Investigators can collect DNA evidence from a number of different sources. Almost any biological evidence can contain DNA, although not every sample contains sufficient amounts of DNA to enable DNA profiling.

Forensic investigators will analyze the biological samples to get a DNA profile of the individual(s) that the samples came from. If investigators already have suspect(s) in mind, they can collect samples to compare to the evidence collected at the scene. There are also databases of DNA profiles that investigators can use to identify suspects by comparing the database information to the DNA profile obtained from the biological evidence.

Assuming that investigators properly collect and handle biological evidence and that the forensic scientists employ accepted methods and conduct the analysis correctly, DNA evidence is extremely accurate. The chances of one individuals DNA profile matching another persons are extremely small — about one in a billion by some estimates (but there is quite a bit of debate about this).

Compared to fingerprinting or eyewitness testimony, which both have inherent flaws and inaccuracies, DNA evidence is a highly effective way to match a suspect to biological samples collected during a criminal investigation.

Because of its accuracy, criminal lawyers increasingly rely on DNA evidence to prove a defendants guilt or innocence. DNA evidence has also exonerated people through postconviction analysis of biological samples. Since DNA analysis didn’t exist until recently, a reexamination of evidence collected during older investigations can reveal that the DNA profile of the person convicted of the crime does not match the DNA profile from biological samples collected at crime scenes.

DNA evidence is not unassailable, however. Errors in the collection and/or handling of the biological samples used for the DNA analysis can result in the exclusion of DNA evidence at trial. Similarly, if a lab contaminates the biological sample or is found to use unreliable methods, a judge may reject the DNA evidence at trial.

When challenging DNA evidence, defense attorneys will usually focus on the behavior of the investigators and forensic analysts in an attempt to cast doubt on the results of DNA profiles, rather than attack the reliability of DNA profiling as a whole. A well-known example of this is the defense strategy used in the O.J. Simpson trial.

Additionally, each state has difference rules regarding evidence, and any failure to comply with the particulars of each states requirements can result in a refusal of the court to examine DNA evidence.

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 LawyerD 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.