Will You Win Your Virginia Criminal Appeal?

If you’ve been charged with a crime, you’re probably wondering what happens if you lose your case.  Can you appeal it? The answer is – yes. But the more important question is, do you have a chance? And that’s a complicated question.   

Recently the Virginia Supreme Court rejected a request to hear the appeal of George Huguely.  In 2012, the Former UVA lacrosse player was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love.

As the Huguely case makes clear, criminal appeals are not simple. Here are some points that you need to consider:

  1. A Virginia Appellate Court will not re-try your case.

    In pursuing his appeal, Huguely was able to retain some of the brightest attorneys in the United States. They claimed that Huguely’s trial was flawed in many ways.

    One argument that Huguely's attorneys made, without success, was that the jury did not have enough evidence to convict. In rejecting this arguement, the Virginia appellate court did not find jury’s conviction to have been “Plainly Wrong.” Keep in mind what that means. To have your conviction overturned based upon insufficient  evidence, the appellate court will not revisit the facts of your case to determine the right outcome. Rather, it will give deference to the jury’s finding, and only overturn that decision if the jury was just plain wrong.

    That’s an important distinction.  That means that the appellate court could still uphold your conviction while thinking, “well, I think the defendant was innocent, but the jury wasn’t plainly wrong to convict.”
     
  2. Even if there are errors at trial, it may not matter on appeal. Trials aren’t perfect.

    Huguely’s defense team made two additional arguments, which are of note.

    My attorney was sick: As you can imagine, this case was very complex with multiple witnesses. Therefore, Huguely retained the assistance of two trial attorneys. During trial, however, one of his attorneys came down with a stomach virus that prevented her from cross-examining a key witness, for which she was thoroughly prepared.

    On appeal Huguely argued that he should have been given a continuance because his attorney was sick.  Seems simple, right?  Well, according to the Virginia Supreme Court, that was a non-issue because he had an additional attorney.

    A juror knew about my case through the media: As you’ve probably noticed, criminal cases are becoming more and more like entertainment. Everyone has an opinion on the latest national criminal case being covered by CNN, FOX, and the like.

    Huguely’s case was indeed one of those nationally covered cases. In fact, one of his jurors admitted to knowing about the case from the media. When that juror was asked about her knowledge, she said that she felt that he was guilty based upon conversations and the media, but that she “[Does] have an open mind!”

    Huguely’s attorneys took issue with this and raised it on appeal. However, the Virginia appellate courts found that, even if this was an error, it wasn’t enough to make a difference.  

What Does This Mean for Your Case?

If you’re charged with a crime, you need to take it seriously from day one. You need to do your homework and, if you want to retain an attorney, you need to start looking now. Trials are very complex, and your attorney needs to be on point and have enough time to prepare. That means getting him/her in your case early.  

It also means that you can’t simply rely on appellate courts to fix errors in your trial. Trials are inherently imperfect. Unexpected (and sometimes bizarre) things happen. That doesn’t mean you’ll get help “upstairs.”

If you’ve got questions about your case, or the appellate process, call our team of experts at (703)584-7277.

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