Getting a guilty verdict in a criminal trial is a grim moment for a defendant. Nonetheless, the verdict does not necessarily doom a defendant to serving a sentence. To ensure justice, convicted defendants in Maryland and the District of Columbia have the right to appeal their verdicts to a higher court.
An appeals court does not conduct a do-over trial. Instead, a panel of judges reviews the issues raised in the lower court. If the panel concludes that the lower court wrongly decided one or more issues, the court may order a lighter sentence, a new trial or — in rare circumstances — an acquittal.
In nearly all cases, an appeal deals only with the issues placed on the record in the original trial; appellants may not introduce new evidence or offer new theories. This unforgiving requirement underscores the importance of issue preservation: submitting motions and raising objections to ensure that arguments are on the trial record. Timeliness is critical in this endeavor. In 2020, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed a conviction because the appellant’s attorney failed to object promptly to an evidence issue in the trial judge’s verdict.
Objecting to questions posed by the prosecution is another way to place issues on the trial record. A successful objection requires knowledge of the relevant statutes and precedents and a fingertip command of the case’s facts and evidence.
Even after a guilty verdict, the defendant may still have options. Those options strongly depend on what happened in the original trial. A big-picture view of the case’s legal strategy is necessary for a successful appeal.