Can I Appeal the Court's Decision?
Once all of the evidence has been presented and all of the arguments communicated, the jury or judge will decide the outcome of the trial. However, a party who is not content with the result may choose to take the case to a higher court in order to have the decision reversed. This process is commonly known as an appeal.
In regard to cases tried in Missouri associate court or circuit court, any party to the case can request a review of the court’s judgment by the Missouri Court of Appeals. When it comes to federal court cases, appeals are directed to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
There are three main types of appeal options available in Missouri: direct appeal, post-conviction appeal, and federal habeas corpus.
Direct Appeal Process
The issues that may be raised on direct appeal are limited to claims of trial error. The most common types of claims involve denial of motions to suppress evidence, the exclusion of evidence by the trial court that would have helped the defendant, the improper admission of evidence by the prosecution, improper arguments by the prosecution, and defective jury instructions.
After a defendant is convicted and sentenced by the judge or jury, he or she has 10 days to file a “notice of appeal” in the sentencing court. Next, the case is classified in the appropriate appellate court. The defendant’s attorney is responsible for preparing the Record on Appeal and filing it in the court of appeals within 90 days. This record consists of a trial transcript and the legal file (e.g. charging document, motions, jury instructions, the formal judgment, etc.), all of which are relevant documents from the circuit court’s file.
Once the Record of Appeal is filed, the appellant’s (defendant’s) brief is due within 60 days. After that, the State of Missouri, through an Assistant Attorney General needs to file their Brief within 30 days (although not required, the appellant may file a Reply Brief within 15 days)
As soon as the case is briefed, the case is presented before a three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals of Oral Argument or, in the discretion of the court unless the defendant requests otherwise, the appeal is submitted to the Briefs. In approximately 60-90 days after oral argument, a written opinion is issued.
After the opinion is issued, the party which loses on appeal has 15 days to move for Rehearing of Transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court through a written motion in the court of appeals. If that motion is denied, the losing party has 15 days to file an Application for Transfer directly in the Supreme Court inquiring discretionary review on important issues of law or to resolve a conflict with a different court of appeal. If the transfer is denied, the Mandate issues immediately, which makes the appeal final.
Rule 29.15 is used to challenge a conviction, using facts outside of the trial record. A prisoner in custody needs to file a Form 40 within 90 days after the direct appeal is final in order to institute a Rule 29.15 proceeding his or her conviction and/or sentence. Keep in mind, claims of trial error cannot be re-raised or raised for the first time during this process.
The most common claim raised in a 29.15 appeal is ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Other issues which can be raised are the prosecution’s suppression of the accused’s favorable evidence and claims of ineffective assistance of counsel on the direct appeal.
When the prisoner files the Form 40 in the circuit court where he or she was convicted, the case goes back before the same judge who presided over trial and sentencing. If the prisoner is impoverished, the court must appoint counsel. Once counsel is either appointed or retained, counsel has up to 90 days to file an amended petition raising all claims for relief.
If the prisoner misses the 90-day deadline for filing a Form 40, he or she is forever barred from filing a 29.15 action afterward. If appointed or retained counsel misses the deadline for filing an amended motion, no other amendments or claims can be raised unless the prisoner can show he or she was abandoned by counsel.
In regard to the amended motion, counsel always should always request an evidentiary hearing, making evidence to support claims presentable. If this hearing is held or not, the circuit court must issue findings of fact and conclusions of law on each of the prisoner’s claims. Once a decision is made, the defendant or the state has 40 days to appeal the circuit court’s judgment to the proper court of appeals.
In capital cases, the 29.15 appeal is filed directly with the Missouri Supreme Court. The process is identical to that of direct appeals.
Process of Federal Habeas Corpus
After having exhausted all state appeals, a prisoner may raise federal habeas corpus to challenge a state conviction. In an effort to try to accelerate death row appeals, Congress imposed restrictions upon the availability of federal habeas corpus relief in the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which went into effect in 1996.
According to the AEDPA, the prison is required to file federal habeas corpus within one year of the competition of the state appellate and post-conviction process. In Missouri, this often gives the defendant one year from the date the mandate issues from the denial of the 29.15 appeal. Remember, a prisoner may lose days arising from the way the case was litigated in the state court, reducing the time for filing a petition by as much as 90 days.
As soon as the federal habeas case is filed, it is docketed before a federal judge in Kansas City or St Louis, depending on the location of the conviction. If it is a death penalty case, the district courts usually never appoint counsel to represent a prisoner who lacks the means to hire legal representation.
District courts will often freely grant counsel leave to file an amended petition to more fully amplify the factual and legal issues surrounding a case. Next, the court will order the state to show cause, requiring them to file in response in opposition to the petition. After this show cause response is filed, the habeas petitioner may file a traverse or reply to address the issues raised by the attorney general in the response. The traverse is typically considered the most important document filed by a prisoner since it allows him or her to address any procedural defenses and rebut any arguments that habeas relief is precluded under the standard of review revisions of the AEDPA. In the Western District of Missouri, a traverse needs to be filed within seven days of the filing of the show cause response, according to local rule.
Once the traverse is filed, the district court generally issues a written decision—without granting an evidentiary hearing—after reviewing the transcripts and other state court records. When the district court rules the petition, the losing party may file a notice of appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals within 30 days. If the ruling is in favor of the state, a habeas petitioner may not appeal unless he or she gets what is known as a certificate of appealability (COA), which the district court uses to weed out frivolous appeals.
If the district court grants COA on at least one issue, the case is heard on merits on appeal in front of the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis. If, however, a COA is denied by the district court, the appeal will be docketed in the Eighth Circuit and the prisoner must file a new application for COA before the court of appeals.
Where a COA is issued or where the state appeals, the case is heard on appeal by a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Once oral argument concludes, the Court of Appeals often issues a decision within approximately six months, depending on the complexity of the case.