Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Denver criminal defense lawyer / appealing to the Supreme Court

If the direct appeal is successful, typically the appellant (fancy word for convicted person who appealed his conviction), has a few remaining opportunities to attempt to have the conviction set aside. The first option is to petition the Colorado Supreme Court for review of the appellate court's dismissal. The defendant and his Denver criminal defense attorney can argue that the trial and appellate courts incorrectly applied the federal or state constitutions, or ignored Colorado statutes. However, the Supreme Court need not even hear the case in the first place. That's because only the initial appeal to the Court of Appeals is considered an "appeal of right." The remaining ones are a privilege. As such, the Colorado defense attorney charged with going to the Supreme Court can not skip straight to briefing the case. First, he must write a petition (a one or two page argument) telling the Colorado Supreme Court why it should even take briefs on the case. Generally the Court is looking to make a legal statement, not simply reverse the error. So the best lawyers will attempt to make an argument that the individual case represents a good opportunity for the Court to either change the law or make a statement. Of course, the odds of even having the case heard are extraordinarily slim.

However, if the court does decide to hear the case, then the real work begins. The briefing process described in the previous post happens all over again. Since the Court has already decided the case was important enough to hear, they are almost certain to have oral arguments, again as described in the post on direct appeals. If the Colorado Supreme Court does decide to hear the case, the chances of getting the appeals court's decision reversed are fairly good. However, this happens in a miniscule fraction of the cases. For all intents and purposes, the defendant should simply begin planning for the post-conviction relief process. But going through the formalities of the appeal to the Supreme Court is crucial for reasons I'll detail in the next post about habeas corpus.

After the petition to the State Supreme Court is (in all likelihood) turned down, the defendant has one last option: appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Appeals from the state supreme court do not go through the federal process with the district and circuit courts. That's because those courts only have jurisdiction over federal law cases and certain civil law cases. A petitioner from a state must go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court with an argument for why his constitutional rights were violated. Of course, this is exceedingly unlikely, since the Court hears only about 100 cases per year from the entire United States, including federal law cases, certain civil cases where people are from different states, and direct appeal cases. As I said, after the initial appeal, it is probably time to start planning for post-conviction relief.

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