If you’ve been convicted of a crime in a court of law and you believe that the verdict (or penalty) is erroneous in any way, you may be able to pursue an appeal or post-conviction relief. Generally speaking, post-conviction relief refers to a number of legal actions that can be taken during the appeals process. Each state has its own rules governing this form of relief, but it generally occurs following a direct appeal. So if you’ve already taken your case to an appellate court, you may want to ask your attorney about other options for post-conviction relief.
The Initial Appeal
There are a number of remedies that may be available to you after you’ve been convicted, depending on your jurisdiction. You could, as mentioned, simply appeal your case to a higher court – though, some states don’t ensure the right of appeal. Upon appeal, you can challenge the trial court’s decision, at which point an appellate attorney will likely review transcripts of the initial hearings, looking for any mistakes made by the judge, jury or defense attorney. The appellate attorney may also keep an eye out for misconduct by the prosecution.
When an Appeal Fails
If a direct appeal doesn’t pan out, you can file a motion for post-conviction relief. Once again, each jurisdiction sets its own limitations on what may be covered by post-conviction relief. Broadly speaking, you may be able to pursue this legal remedy if you believe you were tried in the wrong jurisdiction; if your sentence overshoots the maximum, as set forth in the relevant statutes; if you believe your constitutional rights have been violated; or if you believe pertinent evidence was not presented. This list is not exhaustive, but it may help give you a sense of the claims you can pursue in post-conviction relief.
It’s important to understand your constitutional rights, if you are going to proceed with the appeals process. By and large, people who seek post-conviction relief for constitutional violations, do so because they believe their defense attorney did not act competently; the jury engaged in some form of misconduct; or the prosecution was involved in wrongful behavior.
Moreover, you have a constitutional right to an attorney during some post-conviction proceedings, namely those that affect your rights. Generally speaking, you are entitled to legal representation when dealing with questions involving sentencing, as the doling out of penalties is deemed a “critical stage” by the criminal justice system. You may also have an attorney present when you file an appeal, though as mentioned, certain states don’t guarantee the right to appeal. And if you are seeking redress for your attorney’s incompetence, you may also be assigned (or may hire) a new lawyer.
When Post-Conviction Relief Is Granted
If successful, a motion for post-conviction relief could lead to any number of results. For instance, your case could reopen, your conviction could be vacated entirely, you could appeal the decision, your sentence could be changed or a new trial might commence.
Since different states have different procedures, it might behoove us to gloss some of the rules that exist in a particular jurisdiction. Take Oregon, for instance. An official state document specifies that a person may pursue post-conviction relief (named PCR in the document) after “the appellant completes the entire direct appeal process.” The defendant – or petitioner in the context of PCR – may bring up new claims during this process. This is important to highlight because during the appeals process, the appellate courts are only supposed to consider the ruling that led to the conviction – not brand-new claims.
The Process in Oregon
First, the petitioner must file a “PCR petition” – which lays out the claims of error and the desired relief – within two years of the appeals process. In most cases, the official state document suggests, petitioners seek relief related to an incompetent defense lawyer. Thus, the state generally assigns a new attorney to represent the petitioner throughout the PCR process. During the hearing – which is public and lasts about 30 minutes – the court considers written evidence, including affidavits and documentary exhibits. If the court agrees with the claims, the judge may order a new trial, a reduced sentence or other forms of relief. If the State or petitioner wishes to contest the outcome, a PCR appeal is available to them.
If you are thinking about post-conviction relief, it’s a good idea to ask an attorney with experience in this process. Your attorney can help you navigate the sometime-complex rules surrounding this form of relief.