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How to Appeal Your Criminal Case in Texas

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

How to Appeal Your Criminal Case in Texas

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Criminal cases are not one-and-done. You have a legal right to appeal your case, asking a higher court to review the decision against you to determine whether or not it’s fair. However, appealing a verdict isn’t simple. You need an experienced attorney to ensure you have the best chance of winning an appeal. 

Here is how the appeals process works in Texas.

Texas District Courts

Texas is divided into 14 districts, each with its own court with elected judges. Six judges serve the court in highly populated districts, while smaller districts have at least three. 

If you file for an appeal of your verdict, your case goes to the district court serving the county where the local court rendered your verdict. If you lose and wish to appeal to a higher court than the district court, you appeal to the “court of last resort,” the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, TX.

Any appeal beyond the Court of Criminal Appeals proceeds to the United States Supreme Court, but you must base the case on a US Constitutional issue. The US Supreme Court does not consider other matters at that level.

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How Texas Criminal Appeals Work

According to the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, you and your defense attorney must determine whether to file a notice of appeal or a motion for a new trial. 

Notice of Appeal

Your attorney should file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the date of the announcement of your verdict in court. Typically, your defense lawyer files the notice immediately upon hearing the verdict while you are still in the courtroom. After 30 days, you lose the right to file an appeal.

At the same time, the attorney can file a motion to appoint an appellate court counsel. If you cannot afford counsel, your lawyer can also attach an affidavit stating you are indigent and unable to pay.

The affidavit protects your right to have an appointed counsel on your appeal. It allows your family or someone else to hire a lawyer for you if they wish.

Motion for a New Trial

If you and your attorney can present a point of error in your trial, such as misconduct by a juror, you can file a motion for a new trial. You have 30 days from the announcement of the verdict, and it must be presented to the trial judge within ten days after the motion is filed.

Filing for a new trial also extends the deadline for filing a notice of appeal from 30 days to 90 days from your unfavorable verdict. 

The Effect of Plea Bargains

Some plea bargains require you to waive your right to an appeal, but you can still appeal for these reasons:

  • The appeal concerns the court’s jurisdiction to hear your case.
  • The appeal involves a pre-trial motion.
  • You have the trial court’s permission to appeal.

Before you accept a plea bargain, obtain guidance from an experienced criminal attorney.

The Appeal Process

An appeal is not an opportunity for a new trial. The only thing an appeal does is request a review of your case for legal errors. You cannot present any new affidavits, hear any further witness testimony, or construct a new trial strategy. Your appeal depends entirely on the records created during the trial.

Also, the court of appeals does not determine guilt or innocence. It only reviews a lower court’s verdict to ensure the evidence supports it in a process called “legal sufficiency review.”

Because the appellate court relies on written records, witness testimony can seem different from oral testimony. Justices can perceive it differently when the testimony is in writing.

The appellate court examines the court clerk’s and court reporter’s records obtained by your defense lawyer. Once your attorney files the written records, you have 30 days to file an opening brief of request for extension.

Once you file an opening brief, the opposing legal team submits a response brief. Then your attorney files a reply brief responding to points made in the response brief.

The appeals court justices review the briefs and appellate records. They may set a time for both sides to present oral arguments, plus 20 minutes for the judges to ask questions. Once the presentation is complete, the appellate court issues a written opinion. 

If you don’t want to remain in jail during the process, you can request an appellate bond, which allows you to bond out pending your appeal. Appellate bonds are entirely at the trial court’s discretion.

Winning your appeal means the appellate court determines the trial court made an error or that evidence was incorrectly included or excluded by the trial judge. Your case is returned to criminal court for a new trial.

The prosecution can then proceed with a new trial or dismiss the case.

Schedule a free consultation with attorney Greg Tsioros »

What If You Lose Your Appeal?

If you lose your appeal in district court, you have 15 days to file a motion for a rehearing. If the court denies the rehearing, you have 30 days to file a petition for discretionary review at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 

The petition is limited to 15 pages and must provide a detailed declaration of why your case should be accepted for review beyond the lower appeals court. If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denies your petition, you cannot go any further legally in Texas. The next step will be appealing to the US Supreme Court if you think your case has a constitutional issue. 

If the court grants your petition, your attorney goes to Austin to present oral arguments. The court then makes a judgment in the case. Sometimes, the reviewing court determines an error occurred in the proceedings but may not reverse the verdict. 

The court performs a harm analysis for each error found to determine if the error could impact the result and warrant a reversal. The trial court’s decision stands if they determine the error is harmless.

Appealing to Federal Court

If you lose your appeal at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, you can pursue a writ or certiorari in the US Supreme Court. You can also seek a state post-conviction writ, perhaps with a petition to the federal court with a writ of habeas corpus.

However, getting a federal court to overturn a state court’s decision is extremely difficult since you essentially state that an error in your case resulted in a flawed verdict.

Why You Need an Experienced Attorney

The appeals process is complex, and you may not be free to do the work required to appeal your case successfully. An experienced attorney can help you through the appeal process. Contact the Law Office of Greg Tsioros for more information.


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