How Abuse Of Discretion May Impact Your Criminal Appeal

abuse of discretion criminal appeal law

Mistakes happen in the courtroom, and when a case is ruled in a legally invalid way, an abuse of the court’s discretion may have occurred. This may result in overly harsh sentences and wrongful convictions, and by appealing you may be able to get the court’s decision overturned. Below we go into detail about how this could help with a criminal appeal

How Is Discretion Defined In The Courtroom? 

Discretion is the power of the court or judge to use their own judgement, as well as circumstances and legal precedent, to make decisions. Abuse of discretion occurs when a judicial action is arbitrary, based off of biased views, or a misinterpretation of the law. 

Examples Include: 

- Displaying of bias against the accused 
- Not permitting a specific witness to testify 
- Handing down a sentence disproportionate to the offense 
- Making a flawed ruling with evidence suppressing one party’s rights 
- Influencing a jury to render a specific verdict 

How Abuse Of Discretions Happen In The Court Room 

Judges make decisions quickly to stay on schedule. This gives judges wide freedom in making rulings and these choices will not be appealed unless the appellate court finds that the judge abused his or her discretion. During criminal trials, judges rule on hundreds of objections by both the prosecution and the defense. This leads to the judge making quick choices in heated moments in the trial. These moments are when abuses of discretion are most likely to occur. When an appeals lawyer is doing a case review these will be the moments in a trial that he or she looks at. That way they can be reviewed by an appellate court to determine if an abuse of discretion occurred. 

How To Know Abuse Of Discretion Occurred 

Due to the fact that discretion is based on one person’s judgement, it can oftentimes be difficult to know when abuse of discretion occurs, and even more difficult to prove that a specific error took place when appealing it. However, when appealing abuse of discretion, the court does not have to prove their judgement to have been correct; you only have to show that that the court abused their discretion. 

In order for an appeal to work the appeal court will need to rule that a lower court or judge abused their discretion, you must demonstrate that the judges was so blatantly against reason and the evidence presented that it violated your individual rights. Meaning that you were denied a fair trial. 

There are a number of possible outcomes of an appeal when basing it on abuse of discretion. In the best-case scenario result, the appeal court will reverse the trial court’s verdict. If you were successful in proving the abuse happened, but that the trial was still fair, the appeal court may take note of the error but your original verdict still stands. Lastly, if you do not prove that abuse occurred, the appeal court will uphold the original judgment. 

Standard Of Review Explained 

Standard of review concerns the grounds on which you request a review of the trial court’s judgment. The scope of what an appellate court can look at in an appeal is extremely narrow, so it is essential that you and your attorney choose the correct standard. It is not sufficient to state that you disagree with the trial court’s decision, or that the trial was unfair, which is why standards of review are important. 

Two common standards of review are the de novo standard and the substantial evidence standard. The de novo standard is used when the issue at hand stems from a legal issue, allowing the appeal court to hear and evaluate the case “from the new” (in latin de novo), as if the trial court had not ruled on it already. The substantial evidence standard of review is used when the trial court’s decision is not supported by sufficient evidence. 

What To Look For In A Lawyer To Help Prove Abuse Of Discretion 

Courts are often slow to overturn verdicts, and you have to have significant burden to prove an abuse of discretion happened in your criminal case. If you think, there’s a chance that such an abuse happened in your case you should contact a criminal appeals specific attorney. This attorney should be experienced in the nuances of proving abuse of discretion.

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