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The Rights of the Accused following Trial

Further Readings

The rights of the accused after trial are many and varied. Criminal defendants who are convicted at trial must go through the process of sentencing, but they have the right to argue for a certain sentence. They then have the rightto appeal the guilty verdict and the sentence. Should all available appeals fail, they have the right to attack the conviction again through a civil proceeding against the prison warden called a writ of habeas corpus. Finally, defendants have the right to ask the state's governor or the president ofthe United States (depending on whether the conviction was in federal or state court) for clemency. The sources of these rights can be found in federal and state constitutions and statutes.
Conduct at trial can affect a defendant's sentence. For example, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a defendant may receive an increased penalty (usually a longer prison term) if the defendant "willfully impeded or obstructed, or attempted to impede or obstruct the administration of justice during theinvestigation or prosecution." In other words, if, in the estimation of thejudge, the defendant "testif[ied] untruthfully" at trial, the defendant may receive a harsher-than-normal sentence.
The sentencing phase follows a criminal conviction. Between the day of conviction and the day of sentencing, the court has the option of jailing the defendant or releasing the defendant into the community until the sentencing date.If the court decides to release the defendant, the defendant may be requiredto post a security bond with the court to ensure his or her return to courtfor sentencing.
Convicted criminal defendants have the right to present a case for themselvesat the sentencing phase. In most states, if the conviction was a violation or petty misdemeanor and the defendant is not being sentenced to jail or prison, the court conducts no hearing and simply imposes a sentence on the defendant immediately after the verdict is reached. In any case, the judge gives thedefendant an opportunity to make a statement in his or her defense before the judge hands down the sentence.
In most states, the court holds a sentencing hearing for felony convictions and convictions that can lead to incarceration. This hearing is usually held several days or weeks after delivery of the verdict and can consist of oral testimony, cross-examination of witnesses, evidence, and arguments to the sentencing authority (either the judge or the jury). Sentencing options for judgesinclude fines, imprisonment, restitution to victims, probation, and a variety of lesser penalties.
Probation is a status of conditional liberty. That is, the defendant is freeonly so long as he fulfills certain conditions and refrains from certain conduct. A judge may order a probationer to do or refrain from doing a number ofthings for the length of the probationary period. The length of a probationary period can depend on a variety of factors, most significantly the seriousness of the crime.
On the federal level and in most states, sentences are formulated from "sentencing guidelines." Sentencing guidelines set forth a presumptive sentence fora conviction based on factors that relate to the defendant and the crime involved. Such factors include the nature of the defendant's crime or crimes andthe defendant's criminal history. The judge may depart from the sentencing guidelines, and if the sentence stays within the minimum and maximum allowed under the guidelines, the judge does not have to state the reasons for the departure on the record. If, however, a judge decides to increase or decrease adefendant's sentence beyond the maximum and minimum sentences allowed under the guidelines, the judge must clearly state the reasons for the departure onthe record.
For years, the general rule on sentencing under U.S. Supreme Court decisionswas that the Eighth Amendment prohibited punishments that were grossly disproportionate to the offense committed. However, this rule was officially questioned by the Supreme Court in Harmelin v. Michigan (1991). In that case, the Court upheld the life sentence of Ronald Harmelin. Although Harmelin did not have any prior felony convictions, the trial court was compelled by thesentencing guidelines in Michigan to impose a life sentence after Harmelin was convicted of selling more than 650 grams of cocaine.
Capital defendants are entitled to a full sentencing hearing before a sentencing authority. The sentencing authority is either the judge or jury or both.In most cases, the sole sentencing authority in a capital case is the jury that delivered the verdict. At the hearing, the sentencing authority must be given sufficient guidance to make an informed decision. If the prosecution argues to the jury that a capital defendant should be put to death because he presents a future danger to the community, the defendant has the right to informthe sentencing authority that he would be ineligible for parole and would die in prison if it decides to reject the death penalty.
Sentences may be appealed. The standards for sentencing review vary from state to state. Approximately half of all states allow appeals courts to review all sentences, even sentences that are within statutory guidelines. Other states allow appellate review only of sentences that fall below or above the state's sentencing guidelines.
The federal government and all states provide the opportunity to appeal a criminal conviction. However, on the federal level and in most states, there isno constitutional right to appeal a criminal conviction. Instead, the right is provided by statute. This means that a legislature may retract the privilege of an appeal. In the appeals statutes, legislatures declare that defendantsare entitled to information necessary to appeal, such as a transcript of thetrial and instructions on how to file an appeal with the appropriate reviewing court.
All jurisdictions provide the right to appeal a criminal conviction, and so all must make sure the right is available to all defendants. Where appeal is available as a matter of right (in most cases this is only the first appeal),the court must appoint a lawyer, free of charge, for persons who are unable to afford their own attorney. Where the appeal is discretionary (i.e. a secondappeal, usually to the state's highest court), no such right to a free attorney exists. A person who is on probation or parole and is accused of violating the terms of his probation or parole may be faced with revocation of that status. In such cases, if the probationer or parolee cannot afford an attorney, he may be entitled to free legal counsel. This depends on a number of factors, but generally, if the defendant denies committing the act and faces imprisonment, the court will appoint an attorney.
Capital defendants in state court are entitled to a review of the death sentence in a court with state-wide jurisdiction. On the federal level, capital defendants are entitled to one appeal: to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the particular circuit in which the district court sits. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is not automatic, even for capital defendants. In most situations, state court criminal defendants must appeal first to the state's highest court(usually called the Supreme Court) before asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
Habeas Corpus
A defendant who has filed all possible appeals may thereafter petition the courts for habeas corpus relief. Habeas corpus relief can consistof a new trial, a new sentence, or outright release from incarceration. Habeas corpus relief is available only to defendants who are incarcerated.
A habeas corpus petition is a civil suit filed against the prisoner'sjailer. In the suit, the prisoner must allege that she was deprived of a constitutional right in the case, and that continued incarceration is unlawful. Typical bases for habeas corpus petitions include complaints about thetrial, including ineffective assistance of counsel, discrimination in the jury selection, juror misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, violation of the right to be free from self-incrimination, and similar issues pertaining to constitutional rights. Notably, a prisoner may not challenge a Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) violation in a habeas corpus petition.Furthermore, a claim of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidenceis not a basis for habeas corpus relief.
State court defendants may file a round of habeas corpus petitions inthe state courts and, if a federal constitutional question is involved, another round in the federal courts. Many states limit the number of times that aprisoner may file habeas corpus petitions to one round. In most states, this means one petition at the trial court level, one petition to an appeals court, and one petition to the state's highest court. Some states have onlytrial courts and a high court, which effectively limits the possible numberof habeas corpus petitions in state court to two.
A prisoner whose conviction came from federal court may file habeas corpus petitions only in the federal court system. In 1996, Congress passed restrictions on habeas corpus petitions in federal court. The statutes created strict filing deadlines for state prisoners filing habeas corpuspetitions in federal court, limited the time that a court may spend on petitions, limited the opportunities for evidentiary hearings, limited the capacity to challenge facts determined at trial, required federal courts to give deference to the legal conclusions of the state courts, and made it more difficult for prisoners to file successive habeas corpus petitions.
Under the federal act, the filing deadlines for state prisoners filing in federal court are determined beginning with the date of the last direct review by a court. For prisoners who come from states that provide counsel to prisoners, the filing deadline is six months after the date of the "direct review" of the state court's final judgment. The term "direct review" is not defined in the legislation, but commentators believe that it refers to the date of thelast review in state court. For prisoners petitioning from states that do not provide free counsel, the filing deadline is one year. The statute of limitations, or limited amount of time during which actions can be brought or rights enforced, is tolled (overwritten), however, by certain events, including the discovery of new evidence for a constitutional claim.
By and large, prisoners are entitled to only a "minimal civilized measure ofshelter." Prisoners have a modicum of rights, but most of them may be curtailed in the interests of security. Established rights of prisoners include: theright to sufficient nourishment; the right to be free from arbitrary punishment on the basis of beliefs, religion, or racial and ethnic origin; the rightto be free from constant physical restraint; the right to access to the courts and to legal materials; the right to a minimal amount of exercise; the right to adequate medical care; the right to essential personal hygiene; and theright to adequate heat, cooling, ventilation, and light. Other rights, suchas the right to see visitors, the right to send and receive mail, the right to free speech, the right to practice religion, the right to privacy, and theright to personal property all may be infringed upon to the point necessary to preserve safety and security within the prison.

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