An Overview of Criminal Appeals

If a criminal trial ends in a not-guilty verdict, it’s typically the end of the case. The prosecution does not have the ability to appeal an acquittal. If, however, the defendant receives a guilty verdict, he or she may be able to file for a criminal appeal. A criminal appeal is when the convicted criminal asks the trial judge to overturn the jury’s verdict – to order not guilty instead of guilty. Here’s what you need to know about the criminal appeals process in Georgia.


Almost any criminal convicted at trial in Georgia has the right to appeal the conviction and the sentence. If a defendant took a plea bargain, he or she generally waives the right to appeal a sentence unless the sentence strays outside of the agreed-upon deal. A defendant can challenge the conviction and sentence on a few different grounds:

  1. Legal error . A legal error can be any mistake someone makes throughout the duration of the criminal court proceeding. It could be lack of sufficient evidence, improper instructions to the jury, or evidence an attorney admits improperly.
  2. Juror misconduct . The defendant has reason to believe the jury did not conduct itself properly during the trial and deliberations. Jury misconduct can take the form of drug or alcohol use, improper communication, or use of experiments during trial.
  3. Ineffective counsel . Lack of adequate legal representation can ultimately decide a case’s outcome. A defendant who can prove the outcome of the case most likely would have been different were it not for the counsel’s actions has the right to file an appeal.

In states that enforce the death penalty, the courts grant an absolute right to make an appeal. Once the defendant establishes his/her grounds to make an appeal, the appeal process can begin. In most situations, the courts will only hear an appeal if an appellate court first grants permission to proceed. After completing this requirement, the defendant can move on to the heart of the criminal appeals process.


There is a limited time in which a convicted person can begin the appeals process. An appeal must first go through the intermediate-level state appellate court, then the state’s highest court (the Supreme Court of Georgia ). In some cases, the defendant can pursue an appeal through the federal court – a federal appellate court, and then the U.S. Supreme Court.

After someone notifies the court and government of intent to appeal, the process will go one of a few ways depending on the type of request. The defendant may file a motion asking the judge to overturn the verdict, move for a new trial (declare a mistrial and start over), seek a writ, or ask a higher court to reverse the conviction. An attorney will be able to recommend the best course of action for a particular appeal. An appeal review is at the state court’s discretion. It will review the facts of the case and the reason for the appeal request. If it denies the appeal, the defendant can then move onto the next-highest court.

In the event that a court grants the appeal, the case can end here. The appellate court will reverse the conviction, reduce the sentence, or call for a retrial, at which point the criminal process will restart as if the first trial never happened. Ask your defense attorney if you have the right to appeal, especially if you agreed to a plea bargain. Learn how long you have to pursue an appeal, and what might happen if you win. Understanding your right to a criminal appeal can be critical to your future.