What makes for a good state court appeal?

Although criminal procedures are intended to produce justice, the justice system, like all areas of life, is susceptible to human error. For that reason, our Tennessee law firm has always maintained that criminal appeals should be regarded as an essential aspect of the system, not merely a last ditch effort.

In a recent example, a defendant convicted of stalking under Tennessee law filed an appeal, claiming that the weight of the evidence did not support the verdict. The defendant had allegedly placed signs at the victim’s home and workplace, sent him text messages, and followed him after work in her car.

The case proceeded to a bench trial, which means there was no jury. The victim testified that he felt like he had been defamed by the texts and signs, and that the defendant had jeopardized his job. The court found the defendant guilty and sentenced her.

The woman unsuccessfully appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Her last resort was an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which reversed her conviction for insufficiency of evidence. The court observed that the state stalking law required both objective actions from the alleged perpetrator and a subjective experience from the victim of significant distress or mental suffering. In this case, the victim’s testimony did not touch on those areas. Accordingly, the court concluded that the conviction was not supported by the evidence.

Of course, not every conviction may give rise to an appeal. In our experience, there are several areas that may result in a successful state appeal. Some of the most common issues involve evidence that was either wrongfully admitted into the record or wrongfully excluded, and which prejudiced the outcome of the trial.

Another hotly contested area can involve the instructions that were given to the jury before their deliberations. Perhaps the court applied the wrong law to the case, or gave a sentence that was inappropriate for the crime. Our law firm can review your case and evaluate whether an appeal might be pursued.

Source: Greenville Sun, “How To Convict Under Criminal Stalking Laws,” Dec. 31, 2016

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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