We often write about important criminal-defense-related rulings by state Supreme Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Before any of these cases make it to a high court, however, they are first handled locally. The lower courts where most cases are first heard are often referred to as "trial courts."
The appellate process is an important part of our criminal justice system, both here in Wisconsin and at the federal level. In our next two posts, we'll discuss some basics of criminal appeals.
Even if you don't know much about the criminal justice system, you probably know that convictions cannot be appealed simply because the defendant doesn't agree with the verdict. In most cases, defendants (who then become "appellants") appeal on the grounds that a serious legal error occurred at the trial court level. This error has to be serious enough that it could have impacted the outcome of the trial.
Consider a drunk driving case as an example. In this hypothetical scenario, the defendant was convicted largely based on the results of field sobriety tests, a breathalyzer and a blood test. Before trial, the defendant and his attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence because the traffic stop was based on racial profiling, and therefore invalid.
The judge denied the motion to suppress evidence and the defendant was convicted. But he may be able to appeal his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress illegally obtained evidence.
This is just one of many examples of errors that could be the basis for an appeal. The appellate process is more complex than we can discuss in just one post. Please check back next week as we continue our discussion.