What are all of the steps to challenging a conviction?
At both the state and federal court levels, there are several options for responding to a criminal conviction or sentence. Convicted defendants who think they've been wrongfully convicted of a crime, and disagree with the verdict can take a number of steps to challenge guilty verdicts and/or to correct violations of constitutional rights, including motions, appeals, and writs. Listed below are some common steps that are taken:
- Motion for acquittal. Request that the judge decide that there is not enough evidence to convict the defendant.
- Motion for a new trial. Request that trial judge declare a mistrial and grant a new trial.
- Appeal to state appellate court. Contends that trial judge made some legal error.
- Petition for rehearing to state appeals court. Requests that appeals court judges change their own decision.
- Second appeal to the highest state court. Requests that highest court in the state review and overturn the decision of the mid-level appeals court.
- U.S. Supreme Court appeal. Requests that highest court in the nation intervene to correct an error on the part of the state courts that violated the U.S. Constitution.
- State court habeas corpus petitions. Requests that the state appeals courts order the jail or prison holding the defendant to release the defendant upon a showing that the defendant is being held in violation of some state law or constitutional right.
- Federal habeas corpus petition. Requests the federal trial court to order the jail or prison holding the defendant to release the defendant because the defendant is being held in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In criminal cases, a federal court may review a conviction after all of the usual appeals have been exhausted. A convicted defendant may request one of these reviews in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus Latin for "you have the body." Only a very small percentage of these petitions are granted.