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Appeal Your Mississippi Criminal Conviction

By John S. Grant IV 

If you have been convicted of a crime, you might be able to overturn the conviction by appealing.  Or, you might be a concerned friend or family member who knows someone wrongfully convicted or sentenced.  Either way, we can help with an appeal.

What are the deadlines to appeal a criminal conviction? 

If you are considering an appeal, you must act quickly.  Generally, you have 30 days from the trial court’s final judgment to appeal.  And often, you will need to file a post-trial motion within 10 days of the conviction.  These deadlines cannot be ignored.  And if you miss them, your right to an appeal could be lost.  Bottom line, if you are considering an appeal, you should consult an experienced appeal attorney as soon as possible.

Do I have a right to appeal? 

Generally, yes.  Unless you pled guilty, you have an unconditional right to appeal your conviction.  Keep in mind, though, that you cannot miss the appeal deadlines.

If you pled guilty, you technically cannot appeal directly from that conviction.  But you can file a motion for postconviction relief, which is similar to an appeal, and can accomplish the same result as an appeal.

What is the appeal process in criminal cases? 

The appeal process in criminal cases is mostly the same as in civil cases.  The process is best explained as involving 4 stages.

First, after the trial court’s final judgment, the defendant must file a notice of appeal.  This must be done no later than 30 days after the court’s final judgment.  In criminal cases, this means the trial court’s order of conviction and sentence.  Also, usually it is a good idea to file a post-trial motion within 10 days of the sentencing order to preserve all issues for appeal.  After filing the notice of appeal, the defendant must wait on the court reporter and trial-court clerk to compose the “appeal record” to send to the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals.  This is what the appeals court will review to determine if the trial court made a mistake.

Second, the parties file briefs.  As the appealing party, the defendant (called the appellant on appeal) will file the first brief.  This is your opportunity to present your issues to the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals.  It is where you will make all of your legal arguments.  And this is where your appeal attorney will spend most of his time on the appeal.  After you file your brief, the State of Mississippi will file a responsive brief.  Then, you will get to file a reply brief to the State’s brief.

Third, you await a decision.  After briefing is complete, the appeals court has 270 days to decide the case, and generally takes most of that time.  In rare cases, you may be granted an oral argument during this stage.  The appellate court rarely grants oral argument.  And whether the Court grants argument does not necessarily signal one way or the other which way the court is leaning, as the court will often reverse cases without granting argument.

Fourth, the appellate court issues a decision.  If the appeal does not go your way, you can ask the court to rehear its decision.  Or, if the Court of Appeals decided the case, you can appeal again to the Supreme Court (although this time, the Supreme Court would have to grant permission to appeal through a process known as “certiorari”).

How long does a criminal appeal take? 

Most criminal appeals in Mississippi take a year to a year and a half.

How hard is it to win a criminal appeal?  

Our courts tend to uphold criminal convictions, and therefore you do start off with the deck stacked against you.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is not being entirely honest about the situation.  But with effective representation, you have a lot better chance of having a criminal conviction set aside.  The chances of success will depend on the facts of your specific case.  And if you are considering an appeal, you should speak with an experienced appeal attorney to advise you about the chances of success for overturning the conviction.

How much will a criminal appeal cost? 

It depends on how complex your case is.  If you are considering an appeal, call us for a quote.  Generally, we require an up-front retainer and bill by the hour.  When we discuss your case, you can be assured that we will be candid with you about how much to expect to pay for the full appeal process.

What issues can I appeal? 

There are numerous potential issues to appeal.  These include defective jury instructions, illegal sentence, racial discrimination in jury selection, impermissible comments on your right to remain silent, ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, insufficient evidence to support the verdict, and various other issues – many of which are based on or arise out of the state or federal constitution.

The best way to know the best issues to appeal in your case is to discuss with us what you feel that the trial court did wrong.  We understand that no one knows more about your case than you, and we look at each case with that mentality.  But at the same time, we might be able to identify issues that you have not thought of.  And with our experience, we can advise you on which arguments the court would be more likely to find persuasive.

What is the difference between a criminal appeal and a motion for postconviction relief? 

The difference is really one of timing.  A criminal appeal—sometimes called a “direct appeal”—goes directly from the conviction and sentence itself.  That is, to be a direct appeal, the case must be appealed within 30 days of the trial court’s judgment.  A postconviction-relief motion, however, can be filed at any time within 3 years of the judgment of conviction.  Therefore, if your initial 30 days has expired, you might still be able to overturn your conviction through postconviction-relief procedures.  This is another way to appeal—though it is technically called “postconviction relief” as opposed to a conventional appeal.

What court will hear my criminal appeal? 

If you are appealing from a municipal or justice court conviction, you would appeal to the county court, or if there is no county court, to the circuit court.  There, you would receive a trial “de novo.”  This just means that you are retried.  For this reason, we do not handle appeals from justice or municipal court, because these are not really appeals – they are retrials.

If you are appealing from county court, you may appeal to the circuit court (unless it’s a case the circuit court assigned to the county court, in which case it must be appealed to the Supreme Court).  These are true appeals, where the case is decided on the record and not through a new trial.  Therefore, we would consider handling your appeal case if you’re appealing a county court conviction.

Finally, if you are appealing a circuit court case, the case must be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.  Once appealed, the Supreme Court can—and usually does—transfer the case to the Court of Appeals.  We are very experienced in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, and handle many such cases.

The Supreme Court assigns about eighty percent of its criminal cases to the Court of Appeals.  (After the Court of Appeals rules, the case may be appealed again to the Supreme Court—but this time, the Supreme Court must grant permission to appeal through a process known as “certiorari”).

What should I do if I considering a criminal appeal? 

Call 601-664-0044 and ask to speak with John S. Grant IV, who has a career focus in appeals law.  He can help guide you through the process of appealing a criminal conviction.  

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