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Can the Prosecution Appeal a Not Guilty Verdict?

If your criminal case ends with a not guilty verdict, you might wonder: can the prosecution appeal a not guilty verdict? Having a not guilty verdict on all criminal charges means that the case is over, and the prosecutor cannot appeal the jury or judge’s decision. However, if the appeal is related to your sentence instead of your conviction, the prosecution can argue that your sentence does not match the crime you allegedly committed. The prosecution will file the appeal with a higher court, which has jurisdiction to reconsider the lower court’s verdict. 

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A not-guilty verdict usually means that the prosecution team failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a defendant is responsible for committing a crime. Though the prosecution can not appeal a not guilty verdict, they may appeal your sentencing when applicable.

Grounds for Prosecutors to Appeal a Sentence

State and federal sentencing guidelines restrict the types and extent of sentences judges can give defendants. As such, a prosecutor may appeal a sentence if it seems too lenient on the defendant. The prosecutor will use the sentencing guidelines as the basis for appealing. 

Involve a criminal appeal attorney soon after you learn the prosecution is appealing your sentence. Your attorney will walk you through the involving and confusing sentencing guidelines. An attorney’s involvement will also help you develop a defense strategy for the appeal. 

As a defendant, you have the right to appeal to sentencing that you believe seems harsher than it should be. You may focus the appeal on seeking a more lenient sentence. Either way, it should be based on your state’s sentencing guidelines and the judge’s considerations for the sentencing. 

Understanding the Appeals Process 

Minnesota laws and court rules indicate that some verdicts of the trial courts can be appealed. Besides courts, governmental bodies or agencies, including state departments, school boards, and city councils, can make these verdicts. 

The appealing parties cannot, however, appeal all verdicts immediately. They have to wait until the trial judge or state/local government agency/body rules on all issues in the case. If the prosecutor (or any other party) decides to appeal, he or she must prove that there was an error in the verdict given by the trial judge or the government official. The appeal should focus on getting the appeals court to overturn the verdict or open a new hearing. 

Appeals differ significantly from trial, child-support, and administrative proceedings. They require the appealing party to make written arguments without presenting new evidence or witnesses. Instead, the appealing party must argue about issues brought up in the previous proceedings. 

The appealing party must also discuss the verdict based on the known case facts without introducing new arguments. Instead of focusing on whether the verdict was reached after an accurate determination of the case facts, most appeals revolve around the legal side of the verdict and whether applicable state laws were observed in the ruling. So, it is up to the appealing party to research whether errors were made. 

The Stages of an Appeal

The process of appeal involves five distinct stages. Whether a prosecutor is appealing your conviction or you are appealing a conviction for a misdemeanor or felony charge, you need to know what to expect from the process. Here’s a breakdown of each of these five stages:

First Stage (Filing and Serving the Relevant Appeal Papers)

The appealing party must file and serve valid appeal papers to the other party to initiate the process. While serving the appeal papers, the appealing party must demonstrate the intention to challenge a verdict made by a jury, judge, or a government decision-maker. The documentation should highlight the specifics of the appeal and what it intends to achieve. 

Before serving the papers, the appealing party must file them with the right institution. The institution can be a government body or agency. It can also be an appeals court or a trial court. Either way, filing has to be done before the specified time limit passes.

If you file late, the institution handling the appeal will not have the jurisdiction to examine the case. As a result, the initial ruling will stand, blocking any further appeals. The deadline for filing appeals remains fixed. Appealing parties cannot convince the appeals court to increase this time limit. 

Second Stage (Transcription and Preparing Records)

Record preparation and transcription are crucial in any appeal. They help ensure that the filed documents are handled as per the law. Also, they prevent filed documents mix-up, allowing a smooth and transparent appeal process. 

Once the appealing party files the documents, the court or government agency will prepare detailed records of the previous court or government agency proceedings. The detailed records comprise the papers filed and case exhibits. They may feature a transcript of the defendant’s or witnesses’ testimony

After the institution prepares the documents, it will send them to an appeals court or a relevant government body. These records are a reference point when the appeals court or government decision-maker rules on an appeal. New evidence is exempted when issuing a ruling. 

Third Stage (the Briefing Stage)

The Minnesota law on appeals requires the appealing party (also referred to as an appellant) to file a brief. The appellant must serve the brief on the parties involved. The brief takes the form of a legally-binding written argument. 

Once the appellant files and serves the brief, the involved parties have to submit arguments in written form. In their arguments, the involved parties must explain why they believe the appeals court or government decision-maker should uphold the verdict. 

The appellant can file a brief in response to the written arguments submitted by the other parties. With this exchange, both parties can understand the motivations behind their involvement in the appeal.  

Fourth Stage (Oral Arguments and Non-oral Conference)

The appeal scheduling only begins after the briefs have already been filed, or the filing deadline has passed. During the scheduling, the appeal will be assigned to a three-judge panel or competent members of the decision-making team of a government agency or body. 

The appeal will then be set for a non-oral conference or an oral argument. The lawyers have to request an oral argument. 

During the oral argument, the lawyers face a three-judge panel to support their arguments and respond to any questions the judges pose. The entire session is open to members of the public only to listen to the lawyers’ arguments, but do not present arguments or testify. 

The judge will then discuss, in detail and in private, the course of the appeal and the process of deciding an outcome. 

A non-oral conference is necessary when the appeal is not set for an oral argument. 

Non-oral conferences are usually scheduled for a date when the deciding judge panel meets to discuss the course of the appeal. Minnesota laws on appeals do not require the involved parties or their attorneys to attend the conference. 

Once the appeals court schedules an appeal for either a non-oral conference or an oral argument, it will issue the involved parties, together with their lawyers, a notice. The notice will state the date, time, and venue for the oral argument or the date scheduled for the non-oral conference. It will also list the names of all judges assigned to oversee and rule on the appeal. 

The appeals court only serves the non-oral conference and oral argument notices one or two months after an appeal is ready to be scheduled. The scheduling is based on the attorneys’ availability and the existing caseload in the appeals court.   

Fifth Stage (Decision-Making, also Known as the Final Stage)

Minnesota laws on appeals stress that a written decision must be filed exactly 90 days after the oral argument or non-oral conference happens. Also known as an opinion, the written decision gives more details on the decision that the three-judge panel reached after evaluating the appeal. Once the opinion is filed, the appeals court will not accept any request to have the appeal reconsidered or heard again. 

The court decisions related to the appeal are available to the public for free. Browsing the website of the Minnesota judicial arm can help you access appellate opinions for different cases. The opinions remain on the website forever once they are filed. 

The winning party in the appeal has the right to request the court to order the other party to settle costs used in the appeal. Seeking reimbursement can help the winning party pay the legal fees and other costs incurred. 

Lastly, the Minnesota Supreme Court allows parties not contented with the ruling in an appeals court to file a petition seeking further review of the entire case. However, certain time limits, criteria for doing the review, and additional costs are associated with the petition. The parties filing the petition should look into these factors before taking the case to the Supreme Court.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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