What Happens If You Lose a Criminal Appeal in Texas?

What Happens If You Lose a Criminal Appeal in Texas?

If you’ve been convicted of a crime in Texas, you have the option of appealing that verdict to a higher court, provided that you did not waive that right in some manner, normally as the result of a plea bargain . In reviewing your case, the appellate court may opt to reverse or modify the lower court’s ruling, but it’s also possible that it will affirm (uphold) the original verdict. If this happens, it’s important to understand what your options are and which one is most appropriate for your case.

In this article, the criminal defense team at Hunter, Lane & Jampala outlines your next steps if you lose a criminal appeal in Texas, and how a skilled attorney can help.

Directly Appealing a Verdict

A direct appeal is the first option available to most criminal defendants in Texas who wish to challenge their criminal conviction. This process allows for a higher court to review the trial court’s proceedings to identify and rectify any legal errors that may have occurred should they determine that the error was harmful or affected the defendant’s substantive rights.

Judgments of conviction from District Courts or County Courts in Texas can be appealed to one of fourteen Texas Courts of Appeals. Appeals from Municipal Courts and Justice Courts, on the other hand, go to the County Court. If there was no record on appeal for the County Court to review, the County Court will conduct a new trial de novo. Generally, you have the right to appeal if a defendant pleads guilty. However, the right to appeal may extend to rulings on pretrial motions or matters heard by the court, even if the case concluded with a plea.

Filing the Notice of Appeal

The first step in initiating a direct appeal is filing a Notice of Appeal. This document must be filed in the trial court within 30 days of the final judgment or 90 days if a Motion for New Trial was filed. The case is then assigned to one of the 14 Texas Courts of Appeals, depending on the county where the conviction occurred. A three-judge panel at the appellate court will handle the case.

Your appellate attorney will file two main briefs:

  • The Appellant’s  Brief: Due 30 days after the transcript is filed with the appellate court, this brief outlines the legal arguments for why the conviction should be overturned.
  • Reply Brief: This brief is filed 20 days after the State files its response to the appellant’s  brief. It addresses the State’s arguments and reinforces the reasons for the appeal.

In some cases, the appellate court may schedule an oral argument where the attorneys for both sides present their cases before the judges. However, it’s important to note that oral arguments are not often granted. Appellate courts typically rely on the written briefs to make its decision.

After reviewing the briefs and possibly hearing oral arguments, the appellate court will issue a written opinion. The court may:

  • Affirm the conviction, meaning the original verdict stands. If this happens, you can proceed to the next step: filing a Motion for Rehearing or a Petition for Discretionary Review (PDR) with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals;
  • Reverse the conviction, which could result in a new trial or other forms of relief; or
  • Remand the case by sending it back to the trial court for further proceedings.

The arguments made on appeal must be based on what was presented and preserved during the trial. If the trial lawyer failed to preserve an error (e.g., by not objecting to a questionable ruling), the appellate court will not consider that argument unless it can be shown that the error effected such an important right that affected the structure of the trial. This rule is in place to give the trial court an opportunity to correct errors before they are brought up on appeal.

If the 30-day deadline for filing the Notice of Appeal is missed, you may still be able to file a direct appeal, but the process becomes more complicated. You would need to file a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus for an Out of Time Appeal under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure section 11.07. If granted, you can proceed with a direct appeal following the same procedures.

It is important to note that if you pleaded guilty, no contest, or signed a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) report, you might have waived your right to a direct appeal. However, even if you waived your right to appeal, you might still file a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to Set Aside a Final Felony Conviction, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel or an involuntary plea.

Motion for Rehearing

If you lose your appeal in Texas, you may consider filing a Motion for Rehearing, which allows you to ask the appellate court to reconsider its decision. There are two ways to request a rehearing: by the same three-judge panel or by the entire court, known as a Motion for Rehearing En Banc.

  • Rehearing by the Same Panel: This involves requesting the same three-judge panel that initially heard your case to review their decision again.
  • Motion for Rehearing En Banc: This involves asking the entire court, rather than just the original panel, to hear your case. This option can be beneficial if you believe the issues in your case are significant enough to warrant the attention of all the judges on the court.

A Motion for Rehearing must be filed within 15 days after the appellate court issues its opinion. If you need more time, extensions are available, but they must be requested within that same 15-day period.

Once received, The court will decide whether to grant or deny the motion. If granted, the court may issue a new opinion after re-evaluating the case. If denied, the original decision stands.

Petition for Discretionary Review (PDR) to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court for criminal cases in Texas. After losing a direct appeal, you can file a Petition for Discretionary Review (PDR) with this court, which has nine judges and sits in Austin. However, unlike direct appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has discretion to pick and chooser whether to accept your case.

What is a PDR?

A PDR is a request for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the appellate court’s decision. This petition must be filed within 30 days of the appellate court’s judgment or denial of your motion for rehearing.

What Happens During the PDR Process?

Your attorney files the PDR and outlines the reasons why the higher court should review your case. The petition should focus on significant legal issues or constitutional questions that were overlooked or misinterpreted by the lower courts.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals then reviews the petition to decide whether to accept the case. They may grant or deny the petition without a hearing. If the court grants the PDR, it may schedule oral arguments to further explore the issues raised in the petition. When the court issues a decision, it could affirm the lower court’s ruling, reverse it, or remand the case for further proceedings.

If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denies your PDR, the next possible step is to file a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.

Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and filing a writ of certiorari is a request for the Supreme Court to review your case. This option is only applicable if there are significant federal or constitutional issues involved in your case.

What is a Writ of Certiorari?

A writ of certiorari is a formal request asking the Supreme Court to review the decision of the lower courts. This petition must be filed within 90 days of the final judgment from the state court. The Supreme Court then reviews the petition and decides whether to grant or deny it. 

If it grants certiorari, both sides submit briefs and may present oral arguments before the justices issue a decision, which could affirm or reverse the lower court’s ruling or remand the case for further proceedings. If the Supreme Court denies your petition, the next steps involve filing for a writ of federal or state habeas corpus.

Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus

A writ of habeas corpus is a legal action that allows you to challenge the legality of your detention or imprisonment. After exhausting all other appeals, you may file a federal writ of habeas corpus if you believe there were significant constitutional violations during your trial. This writ is an extreme remedy used for addressing fundamental errors that have not been corrected through the regular appellate process.

What Happens During the Habeas Corpus Process?

Your attorney files the petition in federal court, detailing the constitutional violations that justify the review. Common grounds include: 

  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • New evidence of innocence

The federal court reviews the petition to determine if there is a valid basis for the claim. If the court finds merit in the petition, it may order a hearing to further examine the evidence and arguments. During this hearing, both sides present their cases. The court evaluates the evidence and legal arguments to decide whether to grant the writ, which could result in a new trial, a modified sentence, or even outright release.  If the court denies the writ, you can appeal the decision to a higher federal court. 

State Writ of Habeas Corpus

A state writ of habeas corpus is similar to a federal writ but is filed in state court. This writ is usually pursued after all other avenues of relief have been exhausted and if there are new constitutional issues or errors that were not previously addressed.

What Happens During the State Habeas Corpus Process?

Your attorney files the petition in state court, outlining the constitutional violations or new evidence that justify the review. The state court then reviews the petition to determine if there is a valid basis for the claim. If the court finds merit, it may order a hearing.

During the hearing, both sides present their cases. The court evaluates the evidence and legal arguments to decide whether to grant the writ. It may grant relief, which could include a new trial, a modified sentence, or outright release.

How Can a Texas Appellate Attorney Help?

A Texas appellate attorney plays a critical role in your appeal. They will thoroughly review the trial record and identify any legal errors or constitutional violations that occurred. This detailed analysis helps determine the grounds for your appeal and the best strategies to pursue. They also have the skills to persuasively argue why the appellate court should overturn the lower court’s decision.

The criminal appeals process involves strict deadlines and complex paperwork. An appellate attorney ensures all documents, such as the notice of appeal and appellate briefs, are filed correctly and on time, preventing procedural mistakes that could jeopardize your case. If your appeal involves oral arguments, your trial attorney will present your case to the judges, answer their questions, and address any concerns, using their experience to advocate on your behalf.

If your case requires further appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the United States Supreme Court, a criminal defense attorney understands the specific requirements and procedures for these higher courts. They can prepare and file petitions, increasing your chances of having your case reviewed.

The appeal process can be emotionally challenging. An appellate attorney offers objective, informed advice, helping you understand your options and make decisions based on legal considerations rather than emotions. Working with a Texas trial lawyer ensures that your appeal is handled professionally and strategically, giving you the best possible chance for a favorable outcome.

Preparing for the Next Steps after Losing a Criminal Appeal

Losing a criminal appeal can be disheartening, but it’s important to understand that there are still steps you can take.

Assess the Case with Your Legal Team

The first step is to meet with your legal team to thoroughly assess the outcome of the appeal. Discuss the court’s decision and identify any remaining legal options. An experienced appeals attorney can help you understand the reasoning behind the decision and what steps can be taken next.

Gather Information

Collect all relevant documents and information related to your case. This includes court transcripts, legal briefs, and any new evidence that may have come to light. Having a thorough understanding of your case’s details is crucial for determining the best path forward.

Manage Expectations

Understand that further legal proceedings can be complicated as well as drawn out. It’s important to manage your expectations and be prepared for a potentially long process. Communicate regularly with your attorney to stay informed about the progress of your case and any new developments.

Explore Further Legal Options

Depending on the specifics of your case, you may have several options available, such as filing a motion for rehearing or appealing to a higher court. Each option has its own set of procedures and requirements, and your attorney can guide you through them.

Consider New Evidence or Constitutional Violations

If there is new evidence or you believe there were constitutional violations in your trial, these can be grounds for further legal action. Discuss these possibilities with your attorney to determine if they are viable avenues to pursue.

Prepare for a Long Process

Be mentally and emotionally prepared for potentially extended legal proceedings. Appeals and further legal actions can take time, and it’s important to remain patient and persistent. Your attorney can help you stay focused and maintain realistic expectations throughout.

Speak to a Texas Appellate Attorney Today 

Losing a criminal appeal can be discouraging, but it’s important not to give up hope. Understanding your options, whether it’s filing a motion for rehearing, applying for a writ of habeas corpus, or appealing to a higher court, is essential. An experienced appellate attorney can guide you through these processes, helping you make informed decisions and providing the best chance for a favorable outcome.

If you find yourself in this situation, Hunter, Lane & Jampala PLLC is here to help. Our experienced team can provide the legal representation and guidance you need during this critical time. Contact us today at (210) 202-1076 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a confidential consultation and we’ll respond as soon as possible.