FacebookTwitter
Hatrack River Forum Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » A Not-so-brief Overview of Criminal Appeals and Habeas Corpus

   
Author Topic: A Not-so-brief Overview of Criminal Appeals and Habeas Corpus
Dagonee
Member
Member # 5818

 - posted      Profile for Dagonee           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
This thread is to explain the difference between direct and collateral review of court decisions. The topic is very relevant to some of the detainee threads, so I thought I’d give a little primer. Questions welcome from anyone not currently in or anticipating being in a criminal prosecution or its aftermath.

There are two principle ways in which criminal convictions can be reviewed by higher courts: direct review and collateral review.

DIRECT REVIEW
A direct review is conducted on appeal. The essence of an appeal is “the judge made a mistake.” In civil cases, both sides can appeal. In criminal cases, because a defendant can only be tried once under double jeopardy, only defendants can appeal if a verdict has been rendered (against them, of course). A prosecutor facing a contrary ruling – say, excluding the bloody glove - might be able to appeal before trial. Defendants almost never get to do that, because they can always appeal a verdict. Here, we’ll focus on defendant appeals.

The chain of appeals goes like this:

Federal District Court --> Federal Circuit Court of Appeals --> U.S. Supreme Court*

State appeals go like this:

state trial court --> state appellate court --> highest state appellate court** --> U.S. Supreme Court*

*Fewer than 1% of petitions to the Supreme Court are ever heard.
** Some states only have one level of appeals court.

A defendant is tried in the trial court. In most states and the federal system, he has one appeal of right – the appellate court must consider and decide this appeal. In federal cases, the trial court is a Federal District court, and the appeal of right goes to a Circuit Court. In state courts, sometimes there is an intermediate appellate court, sometimes the state supreme court or equivalent hears the appeal of right. Typically, appeals after the first level are discretionary: the higher level court can refuse to hear the appeal.

Did the judge screw up?

Appeals deal with one essential question: Did the trial judge screw up? Even when it’s someone else screwing up, such as a prosecutor using race to select jury members, the decision being reviewed is the judge. The questions being reviewed are called “questions of law” (as opposed to questions of fact decided by the jury).

Some typical questions on appeal:

Should the judge have allowed the bloody glove to be introduced?
Should the judge have allowed the defendant’s statement to be introduced?
Should juror X have been excluded?
Was the judges refusal to grant a mistrial proper?

Here the appeals court will decide the issue (i.e., did the judge screw up). Note that these issues may be constitutional in nature (Miranda, 4th amendment) or statutory (invalid jury pool used).

If the appeals court finds that the judge made an error, they will either uphold the verdict, remand for a new trial, or overturn the conviction and release the defendant.

Harmless Error

The verdict will be upheld if the error was so small as to not have affected the outcome. This is the doctrine of “harmless error”: if an error occurred, it will not result in overturning the conviction if the government proves the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, suppose the judge erroneously lets a police officer tell the description he received from an eyewitness (hearsay). If there are many other eyewitnesses who testify plus the officer testifies that he found the murder weapon on the defendant, the court may rule this error to be harmless and refuse to overturn the conviction.

Most errors can be harmless. Exceptions are failure to appoint counsel, presence of non-impartial judge, unlawful exclusion of members of the defendant's race from a grand jury, denial of the right to self-representation at trial, and denial of the right to public trial. These errors are never considered harmless.

Preserving Issues for Appeal
Each question on appeal must have been “preserved for appeal.” This means that the defense attorney must have objected or moved for relief in the trial court and then noted his exception when the judge refused. Many appeals die on this analysis.

If a question is not preserved for appeal, the defendant must show that there was a plain error that affects substantial rights. Essentially, this shifts the burden of proving the error non-harmless to the defendant. This generally requires that the defendant show that, but for the error, there is a substantial likelihood that the outcome would have been different.

Key things to remember: appeals happen before a conviction is final, there is generally at least one appeal of right, and the only question is “did the judge screw up.”

Counsel is provided for indigent defendants only for an appeal of right. Discretionary appeals require defendants to provide their own counsel.

Before we move on to collateral attacks on convictions, look back at the little diagrams. Notice that in appeals from a state court, there is no appeal of right to a federal court. The only hope of correcting a state-wide error on appeal is by being one of the lucky few who get their case heard by the Supreme Court.

Next: Collateral Review.

Posts: 26071 | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MrSquicky
Member
Member # 1802

 - posted      Profile for MrSquicky   Email MrSquicky         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm not sure I get why Habeus Corpus in criminal appeals would be relevant to the detainee situation. As far as I can see, they are very different things.

In one case it's a specific (and I'd guess relatively rare) form of appeal to a basically due process operation. In the other, it's a basic principle striking at the very heart of holding people without needing to give any sort of challengable reason.

Posts: 10177 | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Dagonee
Member
Member # 5818

 - posted      Profile for Dagonee           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
First, there's no such thing as "habeas corpus in criminal appeals." There are criminal appeals. There are habeas corpus proceedings. And there are appeals of habeas corpus proceedings.

That's why I'm writing spending a lot of my very valuable time writing this - to explain why its relevant.

Of course they are different things. But both are extremely relevant to this situation. Both detainee bills have provisions relating to both appeals and habeas, and any discussion of the merits of those bills must take into account both sets of provisions.

There have been questions asked which make it clear that the differences between the two types of review are not fully appreciated.

BTW, I'm not sure what form of appeal you think is rare. Could you elaborate?

Posts: 26071 | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
JimmyCooper
Member
Member # 7434

 - posted      Profile for JimmyCooper   Email JimmyCooper         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Hey Dagonee I know this is a little off topic but, your thread reminded me of it. I've been watching the show Justice and I was wondering what you thought about its accuracy(If you've seen it of course). Does it portray most of what trial lawyers do correctly or does it grossly misrepresent the truth?
Posts: 33 | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Dagonee
Member
Member # 5818

 - posted      Profile for Dagonee           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Haven't seen it, sorry.
Posts: 26071 | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
JimmyCooper
Member
Member # 7434

 - posted      Profile for JimmyCooper   Email JimmyCooper         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Okay, thanks anyway.
Posts: 33 | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MrSquicky
Member
Member # 1802

 - posted      Profile for MrSquicky   Email MrSquicky         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I was saying that I gussed it would be rare for habeus corpus to form part of an appeal process. As I understand it, habeus corpus is both realtively simple and generally dealt with before there's a conviction.
Posts: 10177 | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Dagonee
Member
Member # 5818

 - posted      Profile for Dagonee           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Habeas corpus law is incredibly complex. I believe the vast majority of petitions for habeas corpus happen after conviction.

For example, Gideon v. Wainwright was a habeas case. Many of our great criminal constitutional cases were habeas petitions. There are something like 27 habeas petitions per thousand federal inmates, essentially all post-conviction. There are 44 motions to vacate sentences which are procedurally similar to habeas petitions - i.e., they are collateral attacks. Source.

I'll post the rest tomorrow, assuming I get off from work early enough.

Posts: 26071 | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MrSquicky
Member
Member # 1802

 - posted      Profile for MrSquicky   Email MrSquicky         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
That's really interesting. From the link:
quote:
Habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. §§ 2241
and 2254-2255). The basic principle
of the writ of habeas corpus is that the
government is accountable to the
courts for a person’s imprisonment.
If the government cannot show that
the person’s imprisonment conforms
with the fundamental requirements of
law, the person is entitled to immediate
release. A previous BJS report
indicated that “ineffective assistance
of counsel” was the most frequently
cited (25%) reason for habeas corpus
petitions by State inmates. Other
commonly cited reasons include
errors by the trial courts (15%), due
process (14%), and self-incrimination
(12%) (Federal Habeas Corpus
Review, BJS Discussion Paper,
NCJ 155504, September 1995).
For Federal inmates habeas corpus
petitions take two statutorily distinguished
forms: (1) traditional habeas
corpus petitions that generally
challenge the constitutionality of
imprisonment (28 U.S.C. § 2241) and
(2) motions to vacate a sentence
imposed (28 U.S.C. § 2255). While
§ 2255 motions are similar in principle
to traditional habeas corpus petitions,
in 1948 Congress distinguished the
two to address practical difficulties
that had arisen in administering the
habeas corpus jurisdiction of the
Federal courts. Pursuant to § 2255,
the district court where the inmate
was originally sentenced retains jurisdiction
over challenges of the
sentence. In this report, unless
specifically noted, habeas corpus
includes both § 2241 habeas corpus
motions and § 2255 motions to vacate
a sentence.

I didn't know that habeus was so extensive. I thought it was limited to sort of the translation "Do you have the body?", i.e. is there actually proof that they may have committed a crime? Apparently, it's any case where the proceedings were potentially irregular.

Perhaps my ignorance here is atypical, but, from my perspective, that might be something you'd want to work in that people might not know.

Posts: 10177 | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Dagonee
Member
Member # 5818

 - posted      Profile for Dagonee           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I will.

In fact, we'll be starting with the general simple principle of "tell the judge why you've locked this man up" and I'll also come back to it at the end.

It's the most important aspect of habeas corpus, even though its almost never used right now. The threat and availability of habeas makes it so that the paradigm case - somebody is just locked up, no charges - almost never happens.

Padilla and Hamdi were both brought under this more traditional view of habeas, though, with habeas being their first day in court.

However, both detainee bills seem to make habeas the second wave of review again, with a guaranteed appeal to a civilian court. The point of this whole thread is to help people understand what that means.

Posts: 26071 | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MrSquicky
Member
Member # 1802

 - posted      Profile for MrSquicky   Email MrSquicky         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
As I understand it, the Spectre-Leahy-Dodd ammendment was set up specifically to remove the section from the original bill that denied habeus corpus from the detainees. Here's the first article that came up when I searched for it.
Posts: 10177 | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2