“I was wrongly convicted of murder. I spent nearly 17 years in prison fighting my case. When I finally won a new trial, I chose Greg Robey to be a part of my defense team. He found an FBI agent who had worked on the case in the 1980s, along with critical pieces of evidence that we thought were long lost. After a long and very hard-fought trial, I was found Not Guilty of all charges. I owe my freedom to Greg Robey and my defense team.” -R.R., Ravenna, Ohio
When a party wishes to question the ruling of a lower court, an appeal can be filed to have the case reviewed. The appellant’s attorney submits all pertinent records to the court of appeals, along with a written “brief” that details precisely why they believe there was an error in the ruling.
In Ohio, criminal trials are reviewed by the general division of the Common Pleas Court. In the Cleveland area, the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court is the venue for the appeal of criminal verdicts.
The mission of the appellate courts is simply to review decisions made by the trial court – they do not hear new evidence or re-try cases. For each case, a three-judge panel reviews the arguments made in court by reading the verbatim transcript that says exactly what happened in the trial. They also review the “record” (all of the pleadings and rulings that were filed during the trial). Then they examine all the law that applies to the case.
The panel issues a determination as to whether errors of law occurred in the trial – and if so, whether those errors are serious enough to warrant reversing the decision of the trial court. Reversing a jury’s verdict requires a unanimous decision by the panel. If, however, a majority of the judges determine that the trial court did not err, or that the errors were not serious enough to reverse the decision, the court of appeals will “affirm” the ruling.
The judges’ written decision analyzes the parties’ arguments, declares what law controls the case, and rules on how that law applies to the facts of the case. This written ruling effectively becomes “the law” for that district. To appeal the case any further would mean taking it to the Supreme Court of Ohio – which, like the U.S. Supreme Court, is not necessarily obligated to hear the appeal. For optimum results, the appeals process should be navigated by a steady and experienced legal hand.