Criminal defendants in Hawaii and other states often vow to mount appeals after being found guilty by a jury, but few of them actually earn the right to have another day in court. This is because appellate courts only agree to hear appeals in very specific circumstances. A criminal defendant is not given a second chance because they do not agree with the verdict or believe that their jury made a mistake. Their petition will only be granted if their attorney is able to convince a panel of appellate judges that the trial was defective in some way.
Substantial or material errors
Mistakes are only considered sufficient grounds for an appeal when appellate judges deem them to be material or substantial, which means that the outcome of the trial would likely have been different if they were not made. A trial judge excluding a piece of evidence that should have been admitted would not be a material or substantial error unless the evidence was crucial and could have influenced the way the jury voted. Examples of substantial and material errors include:
- A member of the jury was bribed or coerced to vote a certain way
- A key witness lied in court
- A defense attorney did not provide adequate counsel
- A judge made a serious legal error
- A judge made rulings that were arbitrary and unreasonable
Defendants often fire their criminal defense attorneys after being found guilty and then file appeals based on claims of inadequate counsel. These appeals are almost always rejected unless the trial transcript suggests that outcome was significantly influenced by the defense attorney’s behavior, and even then, the chances of success are slim. In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit rejected an inadequate counsel appeal even though the record showed that the defense attorney involved fell asleep while his client was being cross-examined.
Appeals are a long shot
Nobody likes the prospect of spending months or years behind bars after being found guilty of a crime, but that is what usually happens. Petitions for criminal appeals rarely succeed because only obvious errors that likely influenced the outcome of a trail are considered sufficient grounds for granting them. In most cases, the decision of the jury stands.