Factual Issues In An Appeal
The appeal process is a crucial aspect of the legal system that often causes confusion for many clients. Typically, defendants focus on the evidence presented at their trial, which is understandable since it directly led to their conviction. The difficulty lies in the fact that trial courts primarily determine the facts of the case, applying the law to these facts. Appeals courts, such as the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, are established to rectify legal issues, and typically do not scrutinize the facts that resulted in a conviction.
Distinguishing Between Courts Of Law And Courts Of Fact
It is the job of the trial court to determine the facts of any case at trial. Once the trial court finalizes the facts, whether through a jury’s determination or a judge/bench trial, they are generally not up for review, examination, or reconsideration during the appeal. This applies even in complex cases, like allegations of date rape sexual assault, where different interpretations of events and evidence may exist. The appeal process respects the trial court’s findings. It is not in place to second-guess the jury’s decision, but to ensure that the legal process has been fair and the law correctly applied.
Considering Evidential Discrepancies In Appeals
Sometimes, defendants present counter-evidence during the appeal to their appellate lawyer, which they believe contradicts the jury’s findings. This could include text messages, eyewitness accounts, or testimony indicating the defendant’s innocence. However, such factual disparities are usually irrelevant during appeals, and disregarded or ignored by appellate courts.
The truth is that the Appeals Court does not decide on the credibility of witnesses, or the reliability of the evidence. The focus of appellate courts is on legal issues, not factual ones. For example, if the judge made an incorrect legal ruling during the trial, such as disallowing certain witness testimony, or if the prosecutor concealed exculpatory evidence, these issues are within the purview of the Appeals Court.
Exceptions To The Appeals Process
The record established by the trial court is generally unchangeable during the appeal process, with limited exceptions. However, it’s essential to understand that you can present additional information under specific circumstances. For example, if you believe that ineffective assistance of counsel occurred during your trial, you can make a factual proffer, or a factual representation, to the Court of Appeals to support your claim.
To illustrate this, when alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, the Defense could provide the court with screenshots of text messages that your trial lawyer didn’t use, or affidavits from potential witnesses who weren’t called during your trial. These factual proffers are not only allowed, they are critical to establishing the ineffectiveness of trial counsel.
There are two primary ways to file such a request and supporting factual proffer in Michigan. You can either file a motion for a new trial under Michigan Court Rule 7.208 before the trial judge, or you can use your factual proffer to support a motion to remand for an evidentiary hearing in the Court of Appeals. Both these approaches provide an important strategic tool for your appellate lawyer to use if there is significant evidence supporting your innocence.
Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel Claims
An ineffective assistance of counsel claim often serves as a strategic double-edged sword. On one hand, it is frequently a very compelling, stand-alone legal argument to challenge a Defendant’s conviction. But in addition to that, it offers the Defense a platform or vehicle to present new additional evidence that tends to support your innocence during your appeal.
While this process may seem complex, understanding that the primary role of an appeal is to address legal issues, not necessarily factual ones, can provide a clearer path through the intricacies of the legal system.