Criminal Appeals Process

You want to appeal your case?

How can I appeal my case?  That question pops into the minds of almost everybody who is convicted or found guilty in a criminal case.  Unfortunately, appeals are not like traffic tickets.  Haiduk can not usually talk somebody through one over the phone.

In Illinois, criminal and traffic appeals are done in writing.  Nearly everything the appeals court hears about the case is through your appellate brief.  Many appeals courts will also let the parties speak at an oral argument.  The Second District Appellate Court (the one who decides Kane County and McHenry County Appeals) disfavors oral argument, though.  So, it is best that the brief be the absolute best it can- it might be your only shot.

How do you know what to put in your appeals brief?

It starts by reading the “record.”  The record is every piece of paper ever filed with the clerk on your case, plus every word ever spoke in front of a court reporter throughout the case- It is not unusual to for this to be over 1,000 pages of paper to review.  While you are reading through that, it is probably also best to draft your statement of facts at the same time… including a citation for each fact, of course.

Taking those facts, you have to build your issues through legal research by using past written court opinions to show how your facts should have caused the judge to have made different findings, or the “finder of fact” to find facts differently.  This is a lot of work.  A lot.  It is also why most lawyers do not do appeals.

The statement of facts and “argument” (the part mixing the facts with the law) can take up 50 pages by themselves.

That does not even include all the other parts the Supreme Court rules say you must put in your brief.  Doing a good job on a felony appeal may take a minimum of 40 hours of work.  Misdemeanor and traffic cases can take less, although that is not always the case.  Of course, this all has to be done by stringent deadlines.

If it is important to you to appeal your criminal case, the absolute best thing you can do is call a lawyer who knows how to do appeals.  Appellate law is, perhaps, the most labor intensive, confusing area of law- even a lot of trial attorneys do not understand.  If you choose not to talk to a lawyer, make yourself familiar with all of the rules (Supreme Court, local court, etc.) that will affect what you do.  The Office of the Appellate Defender has put out a great book to get you started.

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