A DUI defendant may have every credit to their case, from high-caliber legal representation to a powerhouse defense and disputable evidence, and still, be handed a guilty verdict when all is said and done. An oft-repeated mantra in the field of DUI defense is 'an arrest is not a conviction.' Keeping with that frame of mind, the justice system has so many avenues of recourse for convicted defendants that even convictions may be challenged. A guilty verdict is hardly the final word on the matter of your DUI.
There are few things more gutting than hearing a verdict of 'guilty' after investing time, resources and energy into fighting your DUI charge. Although the idea of further legal embattlement is daunting, it is certainly worth it to keep a stigmatizing conviction off your record. If and when you receive a guilty verdict in your DUI case, filing an appeal could very well be your next step. With the right legal representative at your side, your odds of beating this verdict are still infinitely better than they would be without the services of that skilled representative. There are a number of things you should be aware of going into the appellate process, as you continue the fight against an eventual conviction.
You may be wondering, how long do I have to file an appeal in Georgia? Georgia law holds that you have 30 days from the date your judgment is entered to file an appeal. Your lawyer will guide you through this process so you will not be deciphering the legal terminology on your own; in general, you will never be going at it alone.
The Purpose of an Appeal
Appellate courts differ from trial courts on many counts. The purpose of an appeal is not to retry you for the crime for which the trial court found you guilty. Rather, the purpose is to thoroughly review the proceedings in the lower court, and determine if any legal error occurred in the course of the trial. Examples of legal error include improper jury bias and admittance of evidence which should have been suppressed, but this is a mere sampling of many errors the appellate court may find. If an instance legal error is successfully argued by your attorney, it ideally can undermine the entire basis of a verdict.
During the initial trial, the DUI incident is subject to acute scrutiny from both prosecutor and defense attorney. During an appeal, the trial itself is subject to that same scrutiny. The end goal of an appeal is to exact one of three outcomes; either the case be dismissed, the case is retried, or the appellant is resentenced. Rather than explicitly disputing your guilt, you are explicitly disputing the legal correctness of the proceedings that determined your guilt. If the appellate court finds that legal mistakes ultimately contributed to the outcome of your case, then that outcome is no longer valid.
The DUI Appeals Process in Georgia
In Georgia, there are two appellate courts, the Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court which review decisions made in lower courts. The Court of Appeals can hear a broad range of appeals, while the GSC will only hear cases that raise constitutional questions or concern murder or the principle of habeas corpus.
The appellate court will review records of the trial in the lower court. These records are composed of transcripts of everything said in court by each party (attorneys, witnesses, judge etc), and all admitted documents and evidence. To make the argument that legal error occurred, the appellant files a brief which explains how and why the error came to be, thereby arguing that the conviction or sentence was unjustified. In response, the prosecution files a brief explaining why legal error did not, in fact, occur, holding that the conviction is just and should be upheld.
Bear in mind that not every error necessarily contributes to a faulty verdict. Some errors are considered legally harmless. A harmless error is defined as "an error that does not affect a party's substantive rights or the case's outcome.” It is comparable to cases of medical negligence. A doctor may make an error in the course of treatment, but if that error was harmless and did not create or contribute to the patient's injury, then that error is not legally actionable.
Be aware that the opposing side may file a cross appeal within 15 days of when you file the Notice of Appeal. The purpose of the cross-appeal is to formally refute your appeal of the verdict. A cross-appeal would have the Court of Appeals affirm the lower court's decision whereby you were found guilty.
Contact an Atlanta DUI Defense Attorney
The appeal process may be lengthy. There may be many cases ahead of yours waiting to be heard. Furthermore, it may take the appeals court many months before a decision is reached in your case. Litigation is lengthy by nature, and the appeals process is no exception. If you have been found guilty as charged in your DUI case, rest assured that there are still means of obtaining relief to your conviction or sentence. Consult with your skilled legal representative to make a preliminary determination as to whether or not your case was unjustly affected by a legal error. The prowess of your legal representative is, as always, key in guiding the outcome of your case. Accomplished Atlanta DUI attorney Richard Lawson is equipped with over 20 years experience in fighting DUI charges. A conviction is not necessarily the final word in your DUI case: relief by means of appeal is still a viable option. Contact Richard Lawson as soon as possible to discuss the possibility of appealing your DUI case.