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Appeal and Other Post-Conviction Proceedings

The federal Constitution does not guarantee the right to appeal a criminal conviction. However, every state affords defendants the right to have at least one appellate court review the record for trial court errors. Many of these states restrict the subject matter of what may be appealed, curtail the time in which an appeal may be taken, or permit appellate courts to issue decisions upon the record and briefs submitted by the parties without holding a hearing or entertaining oral arguments. Federal statutes grant criminal defendants in federal court the right to appeal. Only one review is granted as a matter of right, and this is to the U. S. Court of Appeals. Review of state and federal convictions by the U. S. Supreme Court is discretionary.

After incarcerated defendants have exhausted all appeals without success, they may file a writ of habeas corpus. This is a civil suit against the warden of the prison, challenging the constitutionality of the incarceration. A habeas corpus petition is not anoth-er appeal. The only basis for granting relief to a habeas corpus petitioner is the deprivation of a constitutional right. For example, an inmate might claim that he or she was denied the assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment on grounds that their attorney was incompetent. Violations of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures are not grounds for granting a writ of habeas corpus.

If a defendant loses on appeal and is denied a writ of habeas corpus, most jurisdictions offer a few last-ditch remedies. If the sentence includes parole, an inmate may petition the parole board to move up the date for parole. Inmates of state prisons may ask the governor of the state in which they are imprisoned for clemency. If granted, clemency normally includes the restoration of a released inmate’s civil rights, such as the right to vote and own a gun. A commutation of sentence is a lesser form of clemency, since it does not restore the legal rights of the inmate but only releases him or her from incarceration. Federal inmates may ask the president of the United States for a pardon, which, like clemency, releases the inmate from custody and restores his or her legal rights and privileges.

Inside Appeal and Other Post-Conviction Proceedings