Understanding the Criminal Appeals Process in Tennessee

The criminal justice system in Tennessee, like in many states, operates under a structured appellate process designed to ensure fairness and accuracy in legal proceedings. The appellate process is applicable after a defendant has been convicted of a criminal offense. A criminal appeal offers a defendant the opportunity to challenge their verdicts and/or sentence based on legal errors or other grounds. If you have been convicted of a criminal offense, understanding the appeals process is crucial. Because every conviction involves a unique set of circumstances, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are considering an appeal. In the meantime, a Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby offers a general understanding of the criminal appeals process in Tennessee.

What Are Grounds for an Appeal?

You cannot simply appeal a conviction because you are not happy with the outcome of your case. You must have legal grounds on which to base an appeal. In Tennessee, common grounds for appeal encompass errors of law, procedural irregularities, misconduct, and constitutional violations. Errors of law may include misapplication or misinterpretation of statutes, evidentiary rulings, or jury instructions. Procedural irregularities refer to breaches in legal procedures or the denial of fundamental rights during the trial. Misconduct involves unethical behavior by the prosecution, defense counsel, or the trial judge that may have prejudiced the outcome. Constitutional violations pertain to infringements upon the defendant’s constitutional rights, such as due process violations or illegal searches and seizures. The primary aim of an appeal is to demonstrate that errors or injustices occurred during the trial and that those errors or injustices led to an unfair outcome.

How Do I Initiate an Appeal in Tennessee?

The appeal clock begins immediately after a conviction. Most types of appeal and stages in the appeal process include deadlines within which action must be taken or a defendant effectively waives the right to pursue that action. To get the appeals process started, a defendant or their attorney files a Notice of Appeal with the appropriate appellate court. That notice triggers the trial court to send the record to the appellate court. The appellate court then reviews the trial record, transcripts, and legal briefs submitted by both parties.

Shortly thereafter, both the appellant (the party appealing) and the appellee (usually the prosecutor) submit written arguments known as briefs outlining their respective positions. Appellate briefs present legal arguments, precedents, and statutes supporting each party’s case. They serve as the primary means of communication between the parties and the appellate court. Unlike a trial court, most of the proceedings in an appellate court do not occur during in-person proceedings. Instead, the appeals process largely occurs through written documents submitted to the court.

In some cases, however, the appellate court may schedule oral arguments where attorneys from both sides present their cases before a panel of judges. Oral arguments provide an opportunity for attorneys to clarify legal points, respond to judges’ inquiries, and advocate for their clients’ positions.

What Happens After an Appellate Court Hands Down a Decision?

After reviewing the trial record and considering the arguments presented, the appellate court issues a written opinion detailing its decision. The court may affirm the lower court’s decision, reverse it, remand the case for further proceedings, or grant other forms of relief. Consequently, a defendant may be granted a new trial, have a sentence reduced, or have a conviction overturned if the appellate court decision is favorable. 

If the appellate court’s decision is unfavorable to the defendant, additional avenues of appeal may be available such as requesting a rehearing or seeking review by the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Tennessee Supreme Court has discretionary authority to review certain cases, granting or denying petitions for review based on the significance of legal issues involved. If you are unsuccessful with both the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court, you may seek certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court. 

Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Lawyer 

If you are interested in appealing a criminal conviction in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.


Stan Bennett