Tampa Criminal Appeals Lawyer

Florida Criminal Appeals | Correcting the Errors of Injustice

Florida Criminal Appeals Lawyer

Navigating the complex and detailed criminal appeals process in Florida is not a task to be taken lightly. The Florida criminal appeals landscape is fraught with intricate legal requirements and unforgiving timelines. Given this complexity, self-representation is seldom advisable. To protect your interests, retaining the services of an experienced Tampa criminal appeals attorney is imperative.

Being convicted of a crime in the State of Florida can be a devastating experience with serious consequences. If you don’t agree with the outcome of your trial, you may consider appealing your conviction. Essentially, an appeal is a formal plea to a higher court to assess whether legal errors occurred during the trial process.

Common Issues Raised in Appeals

There are a number of circumstances that may constitute legal error and make your case ripe for appeal. The following is a list of examples: 

  • ​The trial court erroneously permitted the introduction of certain evidence.
  • Evidence was seized and/or searched without sufficient probable case.
  • The denial of a motion to suppress.
  • The denial of a request to excuse members of the jury.
  • The verdict was based on insufficient evidence.
  • The trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the applicable law.
  • The trial court erroneously denied the defendant’s motion for specific jury instructions.
  • The sentence was procedurally erroneous or substantively unreasonable.
  • Juror misconduct.
  • Newly discovered evidence of innocence.

What Can Be Appealed?

The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure are the authoritative body of law controlling the appeals process in Florida. Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.140 sets forth the specific criteria for permissible appeals. Under this rule a defendant can appeal a final judgment adjudicating guilt, a final order withholding adjudication after a finding of guilt, an order granting probation or community control, orders entered after final judgment or finding of guilt, including orders revoking or modifying probation, or orders denying relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a), 3.850 or 3.853, or an illegal sentence. Fla. R. App. P. 9.140.

If the defendant entered a plea of guilty or no contest, he or she may appeal the final judgment only if she specifically reserved the right to appeal. An illustration of this would be when defense counsel files a motion to suppress evidence which is then denied by the court. The defendant may then subsequently plead guilty or no contest, specifically reserving her right to appeal the denial of the dispositive motion to suppress evidence. A defendant may also appeal a violation of the plea agreement, an involuntary plea, or a sentencing error—provided that these issues were properly preserved during the course of the trial proceedings. Further, a defendant may appeal a guilty or no contest plea if the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the sentence.​ As an experienced Tampa criminal appeals lawyer, William B. Wynne understands that each situation requires a completely different approach and strategy to ensure the best chances of success.

Jurisdictional Overview

In Florida, Circuit Courts have jurisdiction to preside over felony charges. Florida’s District Courts of Appeal preside over appeals emanating from Florida Circuit Courts. Accordingly, an offender appealing his or her felony conviction, will have their appeal heard by the relevant District Court of Appeals. Felony appeals in Hillsborough County are reviewed by Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals. On the other hand, Florida County Courts have jurisdiction to preside over misdemeanor criminal cases. Florida Circuit Courts have jurisdiction to preside over appeals emanating from county courts within their Circuit. That is, an offender who appeals his or her misdemeanor conviction, will have their appeal heard by the Circuit Court in the same county.

The Criminal Appeals Process in Florida

​The appeals process is highly technical and involves stringent deadlines. If these deadlines and procedural nuances are not observed, you may be barred from appealing your conviction and sentence. Once sentenced, a defendant has thirty-days to file a notice of appeal with the trial court. Fla. R. App. P. 9.140(b)(3). After filing a notice of appeal, the appellant then has 10 days to file what are called “directions to the clerk” and “designations to the court reporter.” Fla. R. App. P. 9.200(a)-(b).

Within fifty days after the Notice of Appeal is filed, the lower tribunal sends out an index to the record on appeal. the record of your entire case. The index to the record on appeal is a record of everything in the court file, including official pleadings and transcripts of your trial and sentencing.​

Initial Briefs, Answer Briefs, and Reply Briefs

Once the record is complete and transmitted to the appellate attorney, the process of preparing the initial brief can commence. The appellate attorney will carefully read through the entire transcript, analyze the defendant’s case for legal issues, and conduct legal research. The initial brief is the appellant’s opportunity to set forth the factual and legal arguments that justify relief.

Lawyer for Criminal Appeals Florida

The initial brief of the appellant is due within 70 days after the filing of the initial notice of appeal. Fla. R. App. P. 9.110(f). If counsel for the defendant needs additional time to file the initial brief, they can file a motion for extension of time with the appellate court. Appellate courts will typically give an additional thirty-days of time if a sufficient justification is presented with the motion.

After the appellant files their initial brief, the State of Florida is given a chance to respond in opposition to the appellant’s legal claims. In the tradition of our adversarial legal system, the State of Florida (appellee) will seek to refute the appellant’s claims and thereby uphold and sustain the lower court’s conviction and sentence. The State of Florida must serve an answer brief within 30 days after service of the appellant’s initial brief. Fla. R. App. P. 9.210(g).

Importantly, the appellant may serve a second brief, known as the “reply brief,” within 30 days after service of the State of Florida’s answer brief.​ Note that by filing a reply brief, the appellant is allowed to have the last word in the appellate process. While a reply brief is optional, most experienced criminal appeals lawyers see it as a necessity to effectively presenting a case for appellate review. Appellate briefs in state court do not have colored covers. Additionally, service by mail is complete on mailing.​

Oral Arguments and Beyond

​In some cases, the appellate court will permit oral arguments—if such a request is made by either party prior to the filing of the last brief. Oral arguments are an opportunity to present arguments before the appellate court addressing any concerns the court may have. Typically, oral arguments are limited to 15-20 minutes, most of which is spent responding to questions posed by the court. ​

After all briefs are submitted and oral arguments are heard, the record and all filings are given to the three-judge panel for review. The appellate court is not restricted by any time limits in rendering its decision. All interested parties have no choice but to wait for the court to issue its ruling. Generally, rulings are issued within a couple of months to a year, and sometimes longer.​

The Final Ruling

Most district courts issue opinions on Wednesdays or Fridays. These opinions can typically be accessed online FLCourts.org. However, written opinions are not always issued. In Florida, appellate courts tend to issue more “PCAs” than written opinions. PCA is an acronym for “Per Curiam Affirmed,” which basically means that the appeal was denied without a written opinion.​

Yet, even if the court issues an opinion (or PCA) affirming the trial court’s ruling, all is not lost. There are still some additional avenues that may be worth pursuing. An appellant may file a motion for rehearing if he/she believes that the court overlooked issues of fact or law or if the issues presented are of great importance. A few other tools in an appellant’s arsenal at this stage are a motion for certification of an important issue, and a motion requesting a written opinion. Keep in mind, these motions should not be abused, and should only be filed when an appellate attorney believes there is just cause. Moreover, motions for rehearing are not opportunities to re-argue issues already raised during the appeal.​ The court’s ruling becomes final when it issues a Mandate. The Mandate is issued after the time allowed for rehearing, or after the court rules upon a motion for rehearing.

Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyer William B. Wynne is an attorney for criminal appeals in Florida. If you or a loved one need help with a criminal appeal, contact us today for your free consultation!