Criminal Appeals in Utah

Stephen Howard — Stone River Law

Real Experience. Real Results.

If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime in Utah, it is critical to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The appellate process can be complicated, and there are critical time deadlines that must be met in order to preserve your right to appeal your conviction. Contact Utah criminal appeals attorney Stephen Howard now to begin the appeal process.

Stephen Howard’s skill as an appellate advocate was recognized early as he was named to the National Order of Barristers and awarded the American College of Trial Lawyers Medal for Excellence in Advocacy. After handling literally thousands of cases in Utah’s trial courts, he has a thorough understanding of the issues that can lead to a successful appeal. His experience as a Utah defense attorney has given him the skills and knowledge necessary to help you file a successful appeal in your case.

Utah Criminal Appeals from District Court

The first step in appealing from a district court conviction or decision is the filing of a “Notice of Appeal.” It is critical that this notice of appeal be filed within 30 days after the trial court enters a final judgment. In a criminal case, the “final judgment” is typically the sentencing order. If the Notice Appeal is not filed within 30 days, the right to appeal is considered waived or forfeited.

Notice of Appeal / Docketing Statement / Transmission of the Record

The Notice of Appeal must be filed with the court in which the conviction occurred, and indicates the defendant’s intent to request appellate review of a conviction or other court ruling. Following the filing of a Notice of Appeal, a Docketing Statement must be filed that sets forth the anticipated issues to be raised.

Once the official record is compiled and transmitted from the trial court to the appellate court, trial transcripts, motions, orders, and other documents must be reviewed to identify issues that may provide grounds for reversing the conviction or other court order.

Issues on Appeal

It is not uncommon for a careful review of the court records and transcripts to reveal potential appeal issues that had not been apparent to trial counsel during the proceedings. These are considered to be “unpreserved” Issues, as they were not raised with the judge at trial. Unpreserved issues may still be appealable under a plain error analysis or under a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Common issues on appeal may include constitutional violations, decisions by the trial court judge that are contrary to established case law, incorrect evidentiary rulings, and incorrect instructions given to a jury. Some of these issues may be reviewed by the appellate court for correctness (whether the judge made the legally correct ruling). Other issues are reviewed for an abuse of discretion (whether the judge strayed beyond the limits of appropriate authority).

Briefing and Argument

After appropriate appealable issues have been identified, the appellant (typically the defendant) has the obligation of filing an opening brief with the appellate court. The opening brief provides the appellant with the opportunity to present an in-depth legal analysis of errors that occurred in the trial court.

The prosecution then files a brief responding to the appellant’s arguments. The defendant then has an opportunity to file a final (shorter) brief replying to any issues raised by the prosecution in its brief.Following the briefing process, the appellate court will review the briefs and schedule oral arguments in the case.

The oral argument process allows the parties to appear before the appellate court and respond to any questions or concerns. After oral argument, the appellate court will take the matter under advisement. Once the court has reached a decision, it will issue a formal written opinion announcing the decision, and setting forth the legal basis for the decision.

Petition for Writ of Certiorari

In most Utah criminal cases, the appeal is heard by the Utah Court of Appeals. If either party is dissatisfied with the outcome in the Court of Appeals, a petition for a writ of certiorari may be filed with the Utah Supreme Court. A petition for a writ of certiorari is a request to have the Supreme Court review the Court of Appeals’ decision.

The Supreme Court is not required to hear the case, but will consider the petition to determine whether the case merits further review.If the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, this does not mean that the Court of Appeals’ decision is automatically reversed. Rather it simply means that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on the case. If the petition is granted, the parties engage in a briefing process and oral argument process very similar to that involved in the direct criminal appeal process.

Appealing from a Utah Justice Court

The process of appealing from a justice court is entirely different, and does not require docketing statements, briefing, or oral arguments. Instead, since justice courts are not considered “courts of record,” the appeal is in the form of a “de novo” hearing or trial.

“De novo” means that the defendant is automatically entitled to a new hearing or trial, which is heard in the district court. The result of the “de novo” hearing or trial in the district court is typically considered final. The 28-day period for the filing of a Notice of Appeal still applies. If the Notice of Appeal is not filed within that time period, the right to appeal is considered waived or forfeited.

Finding a Criminal Appeals Lawyer in Utah

Stephen Howard began his career in criminal defense working in the appellate division of the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association. He has achieved successful results in appeals cases including charges for DUI, securities fraud, and Rule 23B remand on a murder conviction. His experience as a trial attorney in both felony and misdemeanor cases in Utah’s criminal courts gives him important insights into the criminal trial processes that are most frequently the subject of a criminal appeal in Utah.

Our criminal defense team is pleased to offer legal services to clients throughout Utah. If you have been convicted of a criminal offense in, time is critical to preserving your right to appeal. Contact us now to begin the process and learn how the attorneys in our law firm can help you.