Anyone who has been convicted of a crime in New York State courts can appeal the conviction and/or sentence to a higher court. You are entitled, by law, to have your first appeal heard by what is often referred to generically as an intermediate appellate court. No permission is needed to file your first appeal, although certain strict procedures must be followed. In New York, the intermediate appellate court can take one of three forms – felony appeals are generally heard by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The Appellate Division is divided into four departments geographically across the state. The location of the court in which you were convicted will typically determine which Department of the Appellate Division to which you must appeal. First appeals from convictions or sentences for misdemeanors and lesser offenses are heard either by the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court in the First and Second Departments, or the appropriate County Court in the Third and Fourth Departments.
All of this terminology can be confusing and counterintuitive. One important take-away is that if you are appealing a felony conviction and/or sentence, you will be appealing to the Appellate Division, which is composed of judges who specialize in hearing appeals. If, on the other hand, you are appealing a conviction and/or sentence of a misdemeanor or lesser offense, you may be appealing to a court that also handles cases at the trial level. An experienced criminal attorney can help you navigate these procedural complexities.
If your first appeal is unsuccessful, you have the option to attempt an appeal to the highest court in the State of New York, the Court of Appeals. However, you are not entitled to this second appeal. You must apply to the Court of Appeals for permission, and such an application is usually denied. Only a small number of criminal appeals are heard each year by the Court of Appeals, and those appeals that are heard typically raise major, fundamental issues of criminal law or criminal procedure, or are indicative of a ongoing legal disagreement between the intermediate appellate courts.
When considering whether you want to pursue an appeal, it is important to realize that typically what you will be appealing are legal issues that arose in the course of a trial or the case more generally. You will often not be able to make arguments regarding the facts of your case, such as whether police actually planted the evidence on your person, or what statements you made to police when you were arrested.
All of the events from your arrest, through your trial, to your sentence can be complicated and full of legal complexity. If you believe your rights have been violated during the course of your case, or you believe legal errors were made by the judge presiding over your trial, you should consult with an experienced criminal attorney regarding appealing your conviction and/or sentence to a higher court.
This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand criminal appeals in New York State.