The Role of an Appellate Attorney in a Criminal Case

A criminal appellate attorney is a specialist who focuses primarily on legal research and writing. A criminal appellate attorney can serve three main roles in a criminal case. 1) direct appeal, 2) post-conviction habeas corpus, and 3) trial support.

Appellate Attorneys Look For Reversible Errors in The Record

In a direct appeal, the appellate attorney looks at the record to determine whether any reversible errors occurred during a trial. The record consists of two things. 1) the clerk’s record includes copies of all the documents filed in a case. These include the indictment, motions, orders, subpoenas, jury charges, verdicts, etc. 2) the reporter’s record, which includes the transcript of the trial and copies of all the exhibits that were admitted into evidence. The appellate attorney’s job is to review the record and figure out whether the record shows any mistakes or errors that were harmful enough that the conviction should be reversed. The appellate attorney identifies these errors as an “issue” or “point of error” in a legal brief he files in the Court of Appeals.

Post-Conviction Habeas Corpus

In post-conviction habeas corpus, the attorney can look outside the record to determine whether there are any grounds for relief. A common example of something the attorney looks for in post-conviction habeas corpus is ineffective assistance of counsel. If the trial counsel made mistakes during the trial, the attorney determines 1) whether the trial attorney’s conduct was so bad that no competent attorney would have engaged in it. 2) whether, but for the trial counsel’s deficient performance, the result of the proceedings would have been different. If the attorney can convince the reviewing court of these elements, a convicted person may be entitled to relief.

Finally, during a criminal trial, an appellate attorney can assist the trial attorney in a supportive role. The attorney can perform legal research. Assist in drafting and arguing pretrial motions. Advise trial counsel on proper ways to object to errors in the trial court. Assemble proposed jury instructions, and ensure that a proper motion for a new trial or notice of appeal is timely filed.

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Written by: Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian Last Updated : August 16, 2023