The Criminal Appeals Process In Massachusetts

Attorney Crouch is a leading Boston criminal appeals attorney and he handles a range of civil and criminal appeals in both state and federal courts. He both writes briefs and appears at oral argument and hearings on behalf of his clients. Attorney Crouch has been an adjunct professor of law at New England School of Law, where he taught appellate advocacy skills to second-year law students. He has also served as a law clerk to the justices of the Massachusetts Superior Court and to the Honorable Mark Green of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. His background as a former clerk for the Massachusetts Appeals Court provides him with unique insight into the appellate process and assists in the crafting of persuasive arguments. Attorney Crouch has handled appellate matters ranging from misdemeanor state offenses to federal carjacking and murder convictions, as well as civil and administrative appellate matters. He has appeared in dozens of cases before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Criminal Appellate Process

A case does not end with the return of a jury or jury waived verdict. Following a conviction, a defendant has the right to challenge the verdict, either through a post-conviction motion or a direct appeal.

To start an appeal, your attorney first files a Notice of Appeal. It is important that such notice be given within the relevant, often short, time limits set by law or your appellate rights may be lost. If you are contemplating an appeal, it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you do not miss the deadline.

Criminal Appeals Overview

A defendant seeking to challenge a conviction can seek a number of avenues of relief. The most common area is called a direct appeal, where a case is brought before an appellate court. In Massachusetts, there are two state appellate courts: the Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court (sometimes referred to as the SJC). All cases are sent first to the Appeals Court, except certain cases (such as first-degree murder convictions), which proceed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court for review. Cases raising new or unusual legal issues may also be transferred for an initial hearing in the Supreme Judicial Court at the request of the parties or by the Supreme Judicial Court’s own order. Once the Appeals Court issues a decision, a party that disagrees with the result can petition the SJC to review the decision. While the Supreme Judicial Court ordinarily denies such requests, Attorney Crouch has successfully petitioned for further appellate review or rehearing in several cases.

Grounds on appeal may include whether there was sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction(s), challenges to incorrect jury instructions, the improper admission or exclusion of evidence, an improper closing argument by the Commonwealth’s attorney, or incorrect legal rulings on pre-trial motions (including motions to suppress, dismiss, or in limine).

A defendant may also seek one of several other avenues for relief. A motion for a new trial can be brought in certain circumstances to challenge a jury’s verdict, the admission or exclusion of certain evidence at trial, to highlight the discovery of new evidence, or to raise specific legal errors. In the case of a guilty plea, a motion to withdraw the plea can be made if it was not voluntarily made, was the product of duress, or based upon the ineffective assistance of your former attorney. A defendant can also file a motion to challenge his sentence in a variety of ways, including motions to revise and revoke the sentence or to protest an illegal sentence.

Appellate Process For Direct Appeals

In the case of a direct appeal, the case progresses through one of the state’s appellate courts. When the case is docketed or accepted by the court, the next crucial stage of the appeal is the writing of the appellate brief. This document contains a discussion of the facts involved in the case, an analysis of the legal issues raised and an argument in support of the position taken by the party who submits the brief. The appellant files the first brief, the party opposing the appeal (the “appellee”) files a responding brief and then the appellant, if necessary, can file a short reply. Once all of the briefs have been filed, the appellate court may schedule a court date to hear oral argument as to why the court should rule in that party’s favor.

If you are not successful at the state appellate level, there may be additional avenues of relief that may be pursued on your behalf. If a defendant loses his appeal before the Appeals Court, he may petition the Supreme Judicial Court in an application for further appellate review. This application details why the Appeals Court’s decision was in error. If three of the seven sitting Supreme Judicial Court justices agree to hear the case, the case may be heard by the court. If fewer than three justices vote to hear the case, the application will be denied.

If you need Boston criminal appeals lawyer, please contact Attorney Crouch at (617) 441-5111 or email him at acrouch[at]andrewcrouch.com to set up a free, initial consultation. To request further information please