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Criminal Trial Post-Trial Steps: Appeals, Reviews & Processes

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  • 0:02 Criminal Trials
  • 0:24 Motions
  • 2:35 Sentencing
  • 3:48 Appeal
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the post-trial steps after a criminal trial. We will look at what these steps are and what the appellate review process entails. Then, we'll explore some specific examples of each.

Criminal Trials

A criminal trial is when two parties, a prosecutor representing the government and a defense attorney representing the accused, meet in court before a judge or jury in order to present evidence to support their case. After the criminal trial is finished, important post-trial steps are taken.

Motions

Motions are pleadings filed with the court before, during or after a trial asking for a hearing or a ruling on something relevant to the case. Motions are typically filed by one party, and then the other side is given a few weeks to file their own response on how they think the court should rule on the motion. Then, it is set before the court for arguments.

Post-trial, there are several different motions that may be filed. The first is called a motion for a new trial. The motion asks the judge to vacate, or dismiss, the verdict and allow a new trial. This rarely - if ever - is granted unless the interests of justice require it. An example of when a motion for a new trial is granted is if important evidence is admitted or excluded incorrectly or the jury was not instructed properly.

A second motion that may be filed post-trial is a motion for judgment of acquittal. This motion asks the judge to set aside a jury's verdict and allow a defendant to go free. This motion is made on the grounds that the jury could not reasonably have reached a guilty verdict. One example of when a motion of this type would be considered would be if a jury found a defendant guilty of murder. Upon review of the evidence, there was little to no evidence to link this particular defendant to the crime and, despite the evidence being lacking, the jury found the defendant guilty anyway. It would be in a circumstance such as this that the filing for a motion for judgment of acquittal be considered.

A third motion that may be filed post-trial is a motion to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence. A motion of this type is usually made due to a monumental or incorrect error being made in sentencing. An example of when a motion of this type would be made is in the case of a defendant receiving probation on a case when the crime he was charged with actually carried mandatory prison time.

Sentencing

A few days or a few months post-trial, a defendant will appear in front of the judge again for sentencing. During sentencing, the defendant will find out what his punishment will be for the crime of which he was found guilty. The judge looks at information from several different sources in determining what a sentence will be. After a defendant is found guilty, he reports for a pre-sentence investigative report. This report reviews the defendant's criminal, educational and psychological background, his current situation, the facts of the case and the victim's wishes and makes a recommendation to the judge for sentencing.

On the sentencing date, the judge will take the report into consideration, listen to the prosecutor's arguments and the defendant's arguments and make her decision. The judge can take many things into consideration, including whether the defendant has committed similar crimes before, if the defendant has mental health issues and/or if the defendant has expressed remorse. There are also guidelines that are set that vary by state that assist judges in finding the appropriate sanction for a crime.

Appeal

A defendant has a right to appeal, or judicial review of the trial court's proceedings during the guilt and punishment phases. An appeal is not a new trial - the purpose is for the defendant to ask a higher court to review arguments of issues not raised at the trial court level. There are many issues that could be raised on appeal: the failure of a trial court to rule on a certain motion, the trial court's denial of a motion or even a trial court's verdict or sentence.

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