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What You Need to Know About Criminal Appeals in Florida

Posted by Ann Fitz | Jun 07, 2024

In Florida, a criminal appeal is filed to review a matter arising from a criminal case (which is a case brought by the State in which a crime has been charged).  When a person is convicted of a crime in circuit court, that person can file a direct appeal of the conviction and sentence to the District Court of Appeal.

The purpose of an appeal is to review decisions of the trial court or lower tribunal to determine if harmful legal error has occurred. Legal error is harmful if it affects the outcome of the case. Appeals are not trials and are not intended to give a litigant a second opportunity to reargue the facts of his or her case. The appellate court does not serve as a second jury. 

An “appellant” is the person who files the appeal and is challenging the judgment entered by the trial court. An “appellee” is the opposing party who is, in most cases, simply trying to uphold the judgment.

Most appeals are started by filing a Notice of Appeal with the Clerk of the lower court or administrative agency within the time limits specified by the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure (usually 30 days). You must also pay the necessary filing fees which are established by the State of Florida. That notice is then forwarded by the lower court or administrative agency to the District Court of Appeal.  If the Notice of Appeal is not filed within the deadline provided by law, the court will not take the appeal. 

Steps in the Appeal Process

Described below is some general information about the steps involved in an appeal. The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure contain much more detailed information:

1. The Record: 

The record consists of papers and documents filed in the trial court. If there is a transcript of the trial this is also included in the record. Within ten (10) days of filing your Notice of Appeal, you may direct the Clerk of the Circuit Court, in writing, to include or exclude documents or exhibits filed in the circuit court. These documents will be sent electronically by the Clerk of the Circuit Court to the Clerk of the District Court of Appeal (Rule 9.200).  If you do not direct the Clerk, the Clerk of the Court will provide the District Court of Appeal with all the documents contained in the Record under Rule 9.200. 

2. Transcript of Proceedings: 

Within 10 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, you must make arrangements with the court reporter for the preparation and filing of any transcript(s) needed for the appeal, as explained in Rule 9.200(b). In a direct appeal of a criminal conviction, the trial transcript will be paid for by the County, if the defendant is indigent and obtains an order of insolvency from the trial court judge. 

3. Writing Briefs: 

A brief is the written statement which sets forth the legal arguments of the party. The appellant sets forth the reasons why the trial court's judgment is wrong, supporting the argument by references to the facts in the record and the law. The appellee's brief sets forth reasoning as to why the arguments in the appellant's brief do not require the reversal of the trial court's judgment.  The Initial Brief and Answer Brief may not exceed fifty (50) pages. Any Reply Brief shall not exceed fifteen (15) pages. (See Rule 9.210).

4. Oral Argument:

If you want to come in person to present argument to the court, in addition to your brief, your request for oral argument must be in a separate document and must be filed not later than 10 days after the last brief is due to be served. If the District Court of Appeal grants your request for oral argument, you may present your case to the three (3) judge panel assigned to the case. You will be allowed ten, fifteen or twenty minutes for this presentation, as the court shall specify in the order setting the oral argument.

5. Decision of the Court:

After the court receives and reviews the briefs submitted, the record, conducts its own research, and hears oral argument when granted, a panel of judges will sit and discuss, or “conference” the case. They will arrive at a decision on the issues involved. Once the court decides your appeal, you will receive written notice from the court. If the court agrees with the decision of the trial court, the written notice will state that the trial court's decision is affirmed. This written notice may include a written opinion of the court or it may simply affirm the trial court ruling without a written opinion. If the court disagrees with the decision of the trial court, it will issue a written opinion reversing the trial court and explaining why the trial court ruling was wrong. The opinion will include directions to the trial court judge about what further action should be taken. 

6. Motion for Rehearing:

If you have lost on appeal and you believe that the court has overlooked or misapprehended either the facts or the law, then you may file a motion for rehearing or clarification within fifteen (15) days of the date of the order advising that you have lost. These motions are not favored. You may not simply reargue your case. (See Rule 9.330).

7. Mandate:

A mandate will be issued by the District Court of Appeal after it has taken all necessary actions to complete the appeal. A mandate is a written notice sent to you and to the trial court advising that the appellate 
process has been completed. (Rule 9.340). At that point, the trial court is once again in control of the case.

Preservation of error; Harmful Error versus Harmless Error 

In order for the appellate court to consider an error in the trial court, the claim of error must have been preserved by an objection in the trial court. For example, a party raising a claim that the trial court erred in admitting hearsay evidence must have objected at trial to the admission of that evidence.

Not all errors by the trial court will result in reversal. In deciding an appeal, one of the things the court will determine is whether the trial court's error(s) was harmful. The error was not harmful if it did not affect the outcome of the trial court proceeding. Only harmful errors will result in reversal of the trial court's order.

Have More Questions? Contact Us Today

Criminal appellate law is complex and can be very confusing.  At the Law Office of Ann Fitz, we regularly represent criminal defendants in criminal appeals in the District Courts of Appeal throughout the State of Florida and will help you navigate the system. Call us today to schedule a free consultation at 561-264-4005.

About the Author

Ann Fitz

Attorney Ann Fitz Attorney Ann Fitz has 20 years of experience as a federal criminal attorney and appellate practice attorney.  She began her career as a prosecutor in 2003 and started her own federal criminal defense practice in 2007.  She is devoted to protecting the rights of the accused in f...

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