I can’t express in words what it feels like to hear a judge sentence you to jail. For me, it was an out-of-body experience, like I was watching a scene from a movie. It doesn’t feel real. I can’t think of anything worse than having your freedom taken away. Knowing that our society empowers people to do this – with surprisingly little oversight – makes my stomach sick.
Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t imprison people who are a danger to society, and who undoubtedly commit violent crimes. But putting people like me—first-time nonviolent drug users—in jail is costing our society in ways most people don’t realize.
Once a judge has sentenced you to CSD or BOP custody, overturning that decision can take years or even decades and is extremely difficult to do. However, like many other inmates, the appeals process began as soon as I arrived in the prison yard. The question for this blog post is: Can you appeal a prison sentence?
This blog post will cover:
- What happens if you appeal your sentence of imprisonment?
- What is the life sentence appeal process like?
- What are the possible outcomes of appealing a custodial sentence?
What happens if you appeal your sentence of imprisonment?
First I should say that I am not a lawyer, I am just speaking from experience. If your loved one is incarcerated and wants to appeal the sentence, consult a lawyer or have them go to the prison’s law library for help with the appeals process. The law requires every inmate to have access to a law library so they can find resources to help them with things like filing an appeal, filing for bankruptcy, or granting someone a power of attorney.
There is a time limit for appeals, and people incarcerated on state charges have a different process than federal charges. There is also a difference between a prisoner who pleads guilty and a prisoner who is convicted by a jury or judge.
Every prisoner has an automatic right to appeal if convicted, but they must initiate the appeal themselves. Appeals are not automatic. To trigger your right to appeal, an attorney must file a notice of appeal and a brief of appeal in which they argue the grounds for your appeal. You do have the option to file an appeal, a “private prosecution”, ie representing yourself without an attorney, but this is not recommended.
There is a public defender representing you in the appeals process, so prisoners should take advantage of this as it can be difficult to find someone who can help a prisoner appeal and has the legal knowledge to understand the process.
criminal defendant plead guilty (or no match) Their appeal requests are usually denied, but not always.
After two years of court battles, I finally pleaded guilty to the charges against me, but with no help from a lawyer, I appealed immediately after I was in jail. I won my appeal in the Court of Appeals, and when the state objected to the decision, I won my appeal in the State Supreme Court. It can happen, but it will take years, and when you plead guilty to the charges against you, there are limits to what you can appeal.
What happens if you appeal your sentence of imprisonment? Prisoners find themselves filling out reams of paperwork and doing a lot of waiting. The wheels of justice turn slowly. While the state can put you in jail very quickly, the process of getting out is long and difficult. Plus, the odds are against you.
What is the life sentence appeal process like?
In order for your case to be heard by the Court of Appeals, your attorney needs to file a Notice of Appeal in a timely manner because there are deadlines and it is nearly impossible to appeal your case if you do not file on time.
If prisoners wish to appeal, they need to contact a lawyer as soon as they are in jail. That means a lot of letters and phone calls, and not all lawyers accept prison collect calls. It is often very helpful to have someone outside make the necessary calls and obtain information about the appeals process, since even though prisoners have access to the law library, they do not always have access.
Prisoners must contact a lawyer so they can file a notice of appeal on time and order a trial transcript to find out what happened to your case. In most cases, your original attorney will not be your representative on the appeal.
Your attorney will then write an appeal brief to argue the legal issues in your case, which will vary depending on whether the prisoner pleaded guilty or was convicted.
Let me be clear, an appeal is not a retrial. You are not arguing whether you committed the crime you are accused of. Instead, an appeal is basically an inmate arguing that someone screwed up. Prisoners have their constitutional rights violated, their lawyers do not do their job properly, or their sentences are incorrect because the trial was unfair in some way.
Ultimately, the judge will make a decision and write an opinion explaining their reasons for upholding your conviction or granting your appeal.
Here’s an extremely brief explanation of the appeals process. It’s a lot more, and there are a lot of variables.
What are the possible outcomes of appealing a custodial sentence?
When you appeal a custodial sentence, a few different things can happen. For those convicted by a judge or jury, they can vacate the sentence and be released. But even then, the state could appeal that decision, or decide to prosecute you again and bring you back to trial, where you could be convicted again.
For someone who pleaded guilty like me, if the appeal is successful, it means that the sentence can be avoided and the whole process will have to start all over again. Prosecutors can decide to ignore you and drop the case, or they can keep the charges against you and you either have to enter into a plea deal or go to trial. Even if you win your appeal, you risk going back to jail.
In both cases, if you lose your appeal, you are stuck with the original judgment. However, you can appeal to a higher court. Ultimately, if you keep losing, you have no chance of appeal and must serve your sentence. For those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, that means they are likely to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
I should also note that when you are incarcerated and you win your appeal, in most cases you are not automatically released. Again, it depends on the circumstances, but when I won my appeal in the appellate court, they put me in jail while the state opposed the decision and took my case to the state supreme court.
This is a very complex topic and I’ve only scratched the surface. If your loved one is facing incarceration and wants to appeal, please contact a lawyer immediately.
Do you know anyone who won the appeal? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: What Happens When You Appeal A Sentence? Appealing a Conviction After Pleading Guilty Appeals, Appellate Courts, and Costs