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Should You Represent Yourself in an Appeal

There are some cases where I tell my clients you can represent yourself.  An appeal is not one of those cases.  Appeals are not like other cases, whether they are criminal or civil appeals.  In this article, we will explain how appeals are unique and why they require the expertise of not only an attorney, but an attorney well versed in appellate or post conviction law. Before you decide to represent yourself in an appeal, read this article for some helpful information on the complexity of appellate law.

What is an Appeal?

An appeal asks a higher court to review the lower court’s decision to determine if the judge applied the law correctly.  People often refer to an appeal as one of a “technical” nature because it focuses on the law that was applied in the original trial or the evidence that was allowed (also part of the law).

How is an Appeal Different?

Appeals do not hear the case “on the merits”.  That means that an appellate judge will not hear the facts of the case to determine the actual case itself.  The job of an appellate judge is simply to determine if the lower court correctly applied the law during the trial.

Appeals are complicated.  Because they do not focus on the facts of the case, they focus on the way the evidence was presented for the most part.  Here is an example:

Joe was convicted of robbery.  During the trial, there was a piece of evidence that was the source of many discussions between the attorneys in front of the judge.  The judge stated that he would allow the evidence to come in but only under certain circumstances.  The evidence was later allowed outside of the prescribed situation.  The defense objected but lost the objection.  This objection was made, however, “for the record” in the event of the appeal.  When there is an appeal, Joe’s appellate attorney will bring up the argument over the evidence and why that should not have been allowed.  This will be the issues that the appeals court will hear; not the actual crime.  In addition, if that objection had not been made, it is possible that this issue may not be allowed on appeal.  This is why appeals are much more technical and complex.

In addition to what is allowed to be considered for appeals, the procedures are very specific.  Even the formatting of the filing itself, including the timeline is strict.  The formatting is very specific limiting the type of font usage, where to file, how to file, when to file and the deadlines are unforgiving. If a deadline is missed, the opportunity is missed.  There are no exceptions.

Why Can’t I just Do It Myself?

As with any other aspect of law, you can always represent yourself in an appeal as long as you have know the full requirements of filing.  You will want to know the dates and deadlines, your legal arguments and case law.  Your appeal will need to be placed in writing and correctly formatted.  It will also need to be made to the correct court.  The courts will provide little to no advice or assistance and the clerks office will readily advise that you seek legal counsel because they also realize that you will be treated as if you have the full legal knowledge to mount an appeal.  If any of these items are done incorrectly, the appeal will be rejected or denied.  If you miss a deadline, that’s the end.  You only get one bite at the apple, so to speak.  For more information on appeals, visit our in depth article Appeal a Judgment for more information.

Christine has years of trial and post conviction appeals experience.  If you have been convicted and need an experienced attorney for an appeal, you can reach Christine by visiting our contact page.

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