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Appeals and Post-Conviction Modifications in Florida

Get an attorney who will utilize all available legal options

Being convicted of a crime in Florida doesn’t have to be the final step in your criminal case. Seeking the counsel of an experienced appeals attorney can ensure that no stone is left unturned in attempting to regain your freedom.

There are many reasons to appeal a court’s decision, including possible trial errors, corruption within the jury, and motion to vacate or reduce a sentence upon obtaining new information.  If you feel that you have been unfairly convicted, or that your sentence is exceedingly harsh, call Thomas C. Grajek, Attorney at Law. I vigorously fight to obtain justice for people who have been treated unfairly by the Florida criminal court system, and I’d be happy to discuss which of the post-conviction options may apply to you in a free consultation.

Know your options after a conviction in Florida

After being convicted in a Florida criminal case, a defendant has several possible options for receiving relief from the court’s judgment. The criminal appellate process is one potential avenue that convicted defendants can take. However, while the appeal process may be the most well-known form of post-conviction relief, not every defendant will necessarily benefit from filing an appeal. There are several alternative forms of post-conviction relief that can help these defendants, including filing a motion to modify or vacate the sentence.

Whatever action you decide to take, remember that time is of the essence. The ability to exercise any of these post-conviction actions has a strict time limit. That’s why you need to contact a lawyer who knows the system and the applicable deadlines right away.

Appealing a conviction

Following conviction in a Florida state criminal court, a defendant has 30 days to file a notice of appeal with the court system. The appeal will be heard by the Florida District Court of Appeals that has jurisdiction over the original trial court. After the notice of appeal is filed, the court’s clerk will begin compiling the appeal record, including all transcripts, motions and pleadings from the original trial court case. Next comes a series of briefs submitted to the court by both the defense and the state, followed by oral arguments in front of the appellate court. After this, the appellate court will issue its ruling.

While the appeal process is ongoing, certain defendants are eligible to be released on bond pending the outcome of their appeal. Barring certain cases that face statutory exclusion, an appealing defendant must file a motion and demonstrate that their appeal is not frivolous.

What issues can be raised during the appeal?

For an appeal to be successful, the defendant and their attorney must show that the trial court made an error, either during the trial itself or in pre-trial or sentencing proceedings. An error occurs when the trial judge makes a ruling that is against either state or federal law. In other words, an appeal is not a new trial of the substance of the case, although a new trial is one possible outcome of an appeal. The appeal itself is a review of the process to verify whether the government followed the rules throughout the proceedings and correct any outcomes that resulted from an illegal process.

Any ruling made by the trial judge that violates state or federal law can be raised as part of the criminal appeal process. Common issues raised on appeal include:

  • The issuance of a search warrant without probable cause.
  • The trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress illegally seized evidence.
  • The trial court’s denial of a request to excuse jurors who displayed prejudice during the screening process.
  • The insufficiency of the evidence presented by the State to allow for a guilty verdict.
  • Jury instructions that provided erroneous guidance to the jury on the relevant law.
  • A final sentence that exceeds Florida’s statutory maximum or is erroneously based on one of Florida’s sentencing enhancements.

This list of possible trial court errors is not all-inclusive. In addition, review of whether the trial attorney objected to the error at the time and whether the error was actually harmful (that is, whether it affected the outcome of the case) is necessary to determine if an appeal is appropriate. A detailed and thorough review of the trial record by a qualified appellate attorney can help make this determination.

What can happen in a criminal appeal?

There are several possible outcomes of an appeal:

  • Affirm the decision of the trial court, meaning the conviction stands.
  • Reverse and remand the decision back to the trial court, which means there will be a new trial, often with new rules in the trial court. For example, if the appeal was based on the prosecution’s use of inadmissible evidence, the new trial will have to be conducted without that evidence. The prosecution must then decide whether to proceed with the new trial or drop the charges.
  • Affirm the conviction but reverse the sentencing decision, meaning the case will be sent back to the trial court for re-sentencing with instructions from the appellate court.
  • Overturn the conviction and end the case altogether, for instance, if the appellate court finds that there is insufficient evidence for a new trial.

Following a successful appeal, you may be eligible to further apply for expunction or record-sealing to remove the arrest from your record. Following an unsuccessful appeal, you may still be able to file a motion for other forms of post-conviction relief.

Alternatives to appeal following a conviction

Filing an appeal is not the right solution for every case, whether due to lack of error by the trial court or the length of time it takes for an appeal to be considered. Several alternatives exist that can still provide relief following a conviction. The alternatives are also possible following the denial of an appeal.

Motion to Reduce or Modify a Sentence

Under Rule 3.800(c) of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, a convicted defendant can file a motion with the trial court seeking a reduction or other modification of their sentence. This motion must be filed and heard by the court within 60 days of either the trial court or the appellate court’s decision.

Motion to Withdraw a Plea

Defendants who pled guilty generally have fewer post-conviction relief options. However, under Rule 3.170, a defendant who pled guilty can ask to withdraw their plea, either before or after sentencing. The standards for this motion are stricter once sentencing has occurred; in these cases, the convicted defendant must show actual legal cause such as an involuntary plea.

Motion to Vacate a Judgment

The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure’s Rule 3.850 allows convicted defendants to file a motion with the court to vacate their judgment and sentence within two years of the final judgment of either the trial court or the appellate court. In order for the court to grant such a motion, a defendant has to show sufficient cause. The most common reason that such motions are granted is due to the trial attorney’s ineffective counsel. Note that defendants are typically allowed to file only one Rule 3.850 motion.

Motion to Correct an Illegal Sentence

If the trial judge issued an illegal sentence, a convicted defendant can seek relief by filing a Rule 3.800(a) motion. Examples of illegal sentences include those based on an incorrect classification of the defendant as a habitual felony offender or those that fail to provide credit for jail time already served.

Get an attorney on your side who will utilize every opportunity

It is important to utilize every opportunity the law provides you in your Florida criminal case, and that means you must act quickly. There are tight deadlines in the appeals process, and you don’t want to lose options because you waited too long. An aggressive appeals lawyer like myself can help you understand what your options are and fight to get you the best outcome possible.

If you’ve been convicted of a crime in Florida, get a criminal defense attorney with extensive experience negotiating appeals and post-conviction modifications. Call today for a free evaluation of your case. Let me help get you on the road to freedom.

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