Being found guilty of a crime is a terrifying experience that may leave you feeling defeated. However, you don't have to accept this verdict as final. If you believe your case outcome was unjustified or unfair, with the help of an appellate attorney, you can appeal the conviction of your criminal case to pursue different judgment at a new trial.
But before your new court date is scheduled and you have a shot at a second chance, there's a process in Bucks County that you'll have to go through. For the purposes of this article, we'll explain what to expect during the Bucks County criminal appeals process.
Filing an Appeal in Bucks County
First and foremost, the right to appeal is only available for defendants who pleaded “not guilty” in a trial (Guilty pleas require a motion to withdraw a plea before an appeal can be granted; barring extremely-narrow circumstances otherwise.)
Since this process is almost always drawn out and complex, it is recommended that all defendants proceed with the assistance of an experienced attorney who's been through this process in this county before. Without representation, you run the risk of missing important deadlines, leaving out important details, or making any other dire mistake that could jeopardize your chances of getting a hearing.
Sufficient legal grounds must be established by your attorney in order for an appeal to be granted. In simpler terms, you must have a good reason for wanting to appeal a trial. Mere dissatisfaction with a case outcome is not enough. Some common legal grounds for appealing include:
- Inadmissible evidence: perhaps the evidence in your case was collected illegally or do not follow the established rules of evidence upheld by the court.
- Lack of sufficient evidence: there must be evidence in a case that proves a defendant committed a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If that evidentiary standard was not met, your case can be appealed.
- Plain error: a procedural error was made in court that affected your rights.
These grounds will be listed in the notice of appeal and sent to the Bucks County Clerk of the Common Pleas. Your defense attorney will take care of this step for you.
Time Limit and Fees
In Bucks County, you must file an appeal within 30 days of the date the Magisterial District Judge made the judgment. If the 30th day falls on a weekend or holiday, you have until the next weekday that the Common Pleas Court is open to file your appeal. The Bucks County Court of Common Pleas charges a $55.50 non-refundable fee for filing the notice of appeal.
From here on, you'll receive something called a criminal docketing statement and numerous documents and paperwork to fill out. After these documents have been submitted, the oral arguments will begin.
Oral arguments are usually very short, and take place before a judge. Based on your appeal, he or she will make one of three decisions: modify, affirm, or vacate your appeal. If “vacate” is chosen, it means the judge ruled in your favor and you'll be granted a new trial. Although the term “affirm” sounds positive, it means that the judge ruled against you and affirmed the original court's ruling. If the judge chooses “modify,” the panel only partially supports the ruling and will change parts of it if need be.
New appeal hearings from the Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court level begin at the Court of Common Pleas, but if you lose here, there are higher courts like the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and thereafter if granted the right to pursue the appeal further, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that you can appeal to. If you win in the Superior Court, you can either have your case dismissed or you'll be given a reduced sentence, or the prosecutor can choose to appeal this decision to a higher court for a new ruling.
Bucks County Appellate Attorney
For a more detailed account of the Bucks County appeals process, you should contact skilled and experienced appellate attorney Joseph D. Lento. He can help you evaluate whether an appeal is an ideal option for you. He's helped many of his clients successfully overturn their convictions and win their new trials. Contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5353.