When the guilty verdict is read and the gavel sounds, that might mark the end of the criminal trial for a defendant. However, it doesn’t mark the end of the defendant’s rights.
Although the trial ends, the defendant’s rights to challenge that verdict are just beginning.
So, how exactly does that work?
Dana J. Norman has served for more than 25 years as an appellate attorney, including working 15 of those years as an attorney on one the nation's busiest appellate courts, the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Court adopted his recommendations in hundreds of appeals, most of which were memorialized in published judicial opinions. After this, Mr. Norman served for over 10 years in the appellate division of the District Attorney’s Office of the Cobb Judicial Circuit. While there, Mr. Norman served as lead counsel in well over 100 cases before the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court. Mr. Norman also appeared in superior court in matters involving habeas corpus, motions for new trial, and other motions related to post-judgment relief. Mr. Norman also served as an appellate instructor for the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. Mr. Norman was honored during this time with an appointment as a special master by the state's highest appellate court, the Georgia Supreme Court.
Mr. Norman’s expertise can shed insight into the judicial process and perhaps provide understanding of recent court decisions.
KYR: In general, here in Georgia, what rights does a person have to challenge a criminal conviction once being found guilty?
Norman: Under Georgia law, every person convicted of a crime has the right to challenge the conviction. Most convictions—except murder—may be challenged in the Georgia Court of Appeals. Murder convictions may be challenged in the Georgia Supreme Court.
KYR: We’ve all heard the saying “Innocent until proven guilty.” However, once a person is proven guilty, who carries the burden of proof to undo that conviction? And, how difficult is that burden to meet?
Norman: After a person is "proven guilty," the presumption of innocence is gone and the defendant has the burden to "undo" the conviction. This is difficult because the law presumes that the defendant's conviction is supported by sufficient evidence and that the defendant's trial was fair.
KYR: When challenging a conviction, is it legally sufficient just to argue that a person is innocent?
Norman: No. After conviction, the question is not guilt or innocence; the questions are whether the State presented enough evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether the defendant received a fair trial.
KYR: From your experience, what are the major misconceptions about the criminal justice process in general and post-conviction relief specifically?
Norman: There are many general misconceptions about the criminal justice process. Here are four: First, the victim of a crime cannot "drop the charges." The prosecutor decides whether to "drop the charges." Second, most criminal cases do not have CSI evidence. This is a TV fiction. Third, you cannot avoid being convicted of a crime because you were not read your Miranda rights. This too is a TV fiction. Miranda only applies after arrest when an officer asks you questions about the officer's criminal investigation. Fourth, most people think that it is bad when a defendant "gets off on a legal technicality." It is not. These so-called "legal technicalities" are the rules that keep us all free from the sort of government oppression upon which our nation is founded.
A major post-conviction misconception is that trial and appellate judges will reweigh the evidence, or second-guess the jury's finding of guilt or innocence. This is not true. Weighing the evidence (in other words, deciding who is telling the truth) is for the jury. After conviction, judges simply look to whether there was enough evidence for the jury to weigh.
KYR: What are the best resources to learn more about a person’s post-conviction rights?
Norman: Your local law library or the internet are good resources for learning more about your post-conviction rights, but relying on such resources to represent yourself is very bad idea. Post post-conviction practice is technical and highly specialized. One misstep and you are out of court. In fact, many lawyers will not even attempt to practice in this area of the law.
Mr. Norman currently serves as senior counsel with Kaufman, Miller & Forman, A Professional Corporation, 8215 Roswell Road, Building 800, Atlanta, Georgia 30350. He can be reached at (770) 390-9200.
Know Your Rights is a blog written by Gregory J. Gelpi, an Augusta attorney and owner of The Gelpi Law Firm, P.C. For more information about Greg, go to www.gelpilawfirm.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Know Your Rights is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. To obtain legal advice, speak with an attorney. The law varies from state to state and outcomes of individual legal matters can vary depending on the particular facts and circumstances. This blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between either the author of this blog or any attorney included in this blog and any reader of this blog.