Criminal defense lawyers work to achieve the goals of their clients. But we also are on the hunt for justice. Is it just for an innocent person to be convicted of a crime? Obviously not. But justice is not always so black and white. For example, what if a person committed a crime, but not the crime for which they were found guilty? Is that justice? What if a person’s trial was unfair or biased?
We always want to get a just result for a client before or during trial. But sometimes, juries find people guilty when they shouldn’t. That’s why our system guarantees the right to an appeal.
An appeal is a way to take the case from the trial to a higher court, in order to review (i.e. take a second look at) errors or legal problems that occurred in the case. A just trial is a fair trial, which means the law and court rules were properly followed, and the rights of the parties were respected. If that didn’t happen in a case, then an appeals court can reverse a conviction and either dismiss the case or send it back down to the trial court for a re-trial (basically a do-over).
Here in Washington, we have three divisions of Court of Appeals – one in Seattle, one in Tacoma, and one in Spokane. And above those courts is one final court – the Washington Supreme Court, based in Olympia. If your case goes all the way to the Supreme Court, there’s basically nowhere to go after that – if you lose there, the case is over. There is a chance that a case could go from the Washington Supreme Court all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. But that is very unlikely in almost all cases.
If you’ve been wrongly convicted of a felony crime, you have the guaranteed right to appeal your case to the Court of Appeals. In other words, the higher court cannot refuse to hear your appeal. So there’s always hope for justice, even after the trial is over.
Winning an appeal and seeing a client go home to their family is one of the best parts of my professional life. Although we do everything we can to win a case before it gets to an appeal, it is a good additional option to have available if necessary.