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The Rights of the Accused following Trial


The federal government and all states provide the opportunity to appeal a criminal conviction. However, on the federal level and in most states, there is no 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 defendants are entitled to information necessary to appeal, such as a transcript of the trial 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 second appeal, 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.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesThe Rights of the Accused following Trial - Sentencing, Appeals, Habeas Corpus, Prison, Further Readings