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What is the Appeals Process in Tennessee?

February 01, 2024

What is the Appeals Process in Tennessee?

If you are facing criminal charges, the ramifications of a conviction can be life-altering. If the court’s ruling is not in your favor, you have the right to appeal the decision if you believe that there was an error during the trial or sentencing.

The criminal defense lawyers at Raybin & Weissman Attorneys at Law are here to provide an overview of the appeals process in Tennessee and in what circumstances you can appeal a judge or jury’s verdict.

Tennessee Appeals Process

If you are found guilty of a crime, you may appeal the decision to a higher court in what is called a “direct appeal.” In Tennessee, you would appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the appeal, your attorney detail what error was made during the trial or in sentencing in what is known as an appellate brief. Likewise, an attorney from the Attorney General’s Office will file a brief responding to the appeal.

Although twelve judges are on the Appeals Court, a panel of three judges will review the brief, the trial court record and transcript, and any arguments before making a final decision. After the Appeals Court makes its decision, you may appeal the decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court hears cases at its own discretion. If the Supreme Court grants permission to hear the case, attorneys for the prosecution and defendant will prepare briefs and make oral arguments. The Supreme Court is only obligated to take capital punishment cases.

What Happens if My Appeal is Denied?

If permission to appeal is denied, you may have the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. Of the 7,000 cases that the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to rule on, the court only hears between 100-150 each year.

According to the “Rule of Four,” in order for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, four out of the nine justices must agree to take the case.

Grounds for Appeal

There are several grounds you can potentially raise in an appeal. Here are some of the most common:

Failure to Suppress Evidence

If a judge allows evidence to be included at trial that should not have been admitted, this is a valid reason to appeal. An example of this may be evidence that was found during an illegal search or seizure.

Allowing Inadmissible Evidence from the Prosecution

Sometimes the trial court will allow inadmissible evidence into a trial, such as hearsay or unfair character evidence. The Appeals Court can determine that the evidence should not have come in and reverse the conviction if it affected the outcome.

Not Allowing Admissible Evidence from the Defense

The trial court may prevent the defense from introducing evidence that should have been allowed. For example, the judge may wrongly determine that something was hearsay that should have been admitted under the Rules of Evidence. The Appeals Court can also grant a new trial if the evidence which was wrongly excluded would have made a difference.

Sentence Too Long

Although the trial judge has wide discretion to sentence a convicted defendant within certain guidelines, there are still several rules that must be followed. If the judge did not properly consider the relevant factors and imposed too long of a sentence, the Appeals Court can reduce the sentence or order resentencing.

Incorrect Jury Instructions

The jury is not well-versed in legalese, so the panel members usually rely on a judge’s legal instructions to make an informed decision. A party may disagree regarding the instructions given to the jury if a particular instruction was not given to the jury.

The Evidence Was Insufficient to Establish the Offense

In most cases, the Appeals Court will defer to a jury’s determination about what happened. However, sometimes the Appeals Court will determine that even if everything happened exactly as argued by the prosecutor, the defendant still did not commit an offense (or committed a lesser offense). For example, the Appeals Court might determine that an injury was not sufficiently “serious” to constitute felony assault and that only a misdemeanor assault occurred.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

The Constitution guarantees all defendants the right to adequate performance by their attorney. If the attorney did a bad job, you may be entitled to a new trial. In most cases, this argument is not made in the “direct appeal” which comes after the person is convicted. Rather, after that process concludes, the person then files a new appeal called a “Petition for Post-Conviction Relief” to show inadequate performance by their trial lawyer. This process begins back in the original trial court, and then proceeds to the Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court similarly to direct appeals.

Contact a TN Appeal and Post-Conviction Lawyer Today

In our legal system, if you believe that you were not given a fair trial, you have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. In criminal matters, it is important to have experienced counsel working on your behalf. Contact us today online or by calling 615- 256-6666 to schedule your free, no-risk consultation.