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Second Time is a Charm? Appealing a Guilty Verdict

To the average person, the history of most landmark court decisions, especially those important enough to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, probably reads something like this:

  • The trial court made a decision. The losing side appealed.
  • The appeals court reversed the decision. The losing side, formerly the winning side, appealed to the state Supreme Court.
  • The state Supreme Court reversed the reversed decision. The losing side, formerly the winning side, formerly the losing side, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with one lower court on one thing, agreed with another lower court on something else, analyzed how the case was like some other cases but different from other other cases, and then made a decision that basically changed everything.

For those of you keeping score at home, well, somebody ended up winning that case. Or maybe the Supreme Court just remanded the case back to the lower courts, to start all over again with some new rules to follow.

Most of the time, however, appealing a verdict is not nearly so confusing.

In criminal proceedings, which in Ohio are generally heard by a Court of Common Pleas, defendants have the right to appeal the decision of the trial court to a District Court of Appeals. But the reason for the appeal cannot be simply that they are unhappy with how things turned out. The appeal must be based on an assertion that the trial court made an error in interpreting or applying the law or in following procedural requirements.

The three-judge appellate court does not re-try the case from scratch or hear new evidence, facts, or arguments — it just examines all the transcripts and documents associated with the original trial, researches the relevant laws, and decides whether the trial court goofed. If so, it may overturn or reverse the decision of the trial court; if not, it will affirm the decision and go on its merry way. And you? Well, that depends on your current place in the winner/loser standings. See above.

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