Even the most skilled attorney can lose a case. A jury may disagree with the defendant's version of events or be unmoved by the defendant's justification for his or her actions. However, a guilty verdict is not the end of a case. If there are legal grounds for doing so, a defendant can appeal his or her case to a higher court. This page will give you a brief overview of the Georgia court system as well as the appellate process in this state.
The Georgia Court System
The court system in Georgia is quite complex. There are numerous trial courts across the state that have a variety of names and hear a variety of cases. In addition, there are two appellate courts in the state: the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Some of these courts have exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases. Exclusive jurisdiction means that a particular court is the only court that has the power to adjudicate a particular type of case. By contrast, some courts have concurrent jurisdiction over certain case types. This means that multiple courts can hear the same types of cases.
There are a number of different trial courts in Georgia including the Municipal Court, the Recorder's Court, the Magistrate Court, the State Court, the Probate Court, and the Superior Court. With the exception of the Superior Court, all of these courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. However, it is important to note that the jurisdiction of these courts vary, depending on which county the court is located in.
- Municipal Court: The municipal court can hear a number of cases including violations of local ordinances, shoplifting, misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, and certain traffic offenses, including misdemeanor DUI cases. In addition, this court can conduct preliminary hearings like arraignments as well as issue warrants. However, it does not have jury trials. If a defendant requests a jury trial, his or her case can be transferred to a state or superior court. Municipal court cases can be appealed to the Superior Court.
- Recorder's Court: There are only a few counties that have a Recorder's Court. Similar to the Municipal Court, the Recorder's Court does not have any jury trials. These courts can handle traffic citations, code violations and other cases, including DUI cases. Cases from this court can be appealed to the State Court.
- Magistrate Court: Magistrate courts can hear civil cases involving $15,000 or less. They can also issue warrants, conduct preliminary hearings, set bail, and try cases involving certain matters such as bad checks. O.C.G.A. § 15-10-2 (2015). A DUI case can start in a magistrate court, but will later be transferred to a court that has jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. Magistrate courts do not conduct jury trials. Cases can be appealed to the State or Superior courts.
- State Court: State courts can hear a greater range of cases than some of the other trial courts in Georgia. A state court has jurisdiction over civil cases that are not under the exclusive jurisdiction of the superior court. In addition, it can hold jury trials and adjudicate misdemeanor criminal cases, including DUI cases. O.C.G.A § 15-7-4 (2015). State Court cases can be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
- Probate Court: These courts can probate wills, administer estates, conduct commitment proceedings, appoint guardians, issue marriage licenses, and issue licenses for firearms. In addition, in the counties where there is no state court, probate courts may have jurisdiction over other types of cases, including DUI cases. O.C.G.A. § 15-9-30 (2015). Cases from this court can be appealed to the Superior Court.
- Superior Court: The Superior Court is the court of general jurisdiction in Georgia and can hear both criminal and civil matters. O.C.G.A. § 15-6-8 (2015). Additionally, the Superior court has exclusive jurisdiction over all felony criminal cases in the state, including felony DUI cases. Like state courts, a defendant can have a jury trial in superior court. Cases from this court may be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
In addition to the numerous state trial courts, there are also federal district courts in Georgia. These are the trial courts for federal criminal cases, as well as civil cases that meet the requirements to be heard at the federal level. Georgia also has a Juvenile Court that handles criminal offenses and other matters involving minors.
There are two levels of appellate courts in Georgia. The first level, or intermediate level, is the Court of Appeals. The court of last resort, or the highest court in the state, is the Georgia Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals can hear the appeals of most every kind of case from the lower courts whether it be a criminal case or a civil case. However, the appeals court does have certain limits on its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over a number of different case types including, but not limited to: constitutional questions, murder, and habeas corpus. Finally, appeals from the federal district court can be heard at the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
There are a number of reasons that a jury or judge may return a guilty verdict in a particular DUI case. If this happens it is important to keep in mind that there may be a chance to appeal that decision to a higher court. For example, in Georgia, if a defendant was convicted of a DUI in a State court, the defendant could appeal the verdict to the Court of Appeals. If the appellate court affirms the lower court's unfavorable ruling, then the defendant may appeal his or her case to the Supreme Court of Georgia. For more information on the appellate process in your case, contact an Alpharetta DUI Lawyer.
How Appeals Work
After a final judgement has been entered against a defendant, that individual can file an appeal. In order to file an appeal, in any case, a defendant must have some legal grounds for doing so. The appellate court only reviews questions of law, not fact. An appellate court is not going to re-try a defendant's case. Rather, the court will look to see if there were any legal errors made during the lower court proceedings. For example, if a defendant objected to a particular piece of evidence being admitted against him or her and the lower court judge overruled that objection, the defendant can ask the appellate court to review the judge's decision. If the appellate court believes that the trial judge made a legal error by admitting the evidence, the court can reverse the lower court's decision. It is important to be aware that not every error made by a lower court will result in a reversal, as some errors are considered legally harmless. A harmless error is "an error that does not affect a party's substantive rights or the case's outcome." Black's Law Dictionary 622 (9th ed. 2009).
In order to start an appeal, a defendant first must file a Notice of Appeal with the trial court. The case record will then be sent over to the appellate court. Once the appellate court has docketed the case, the defendant and opposing party, called the petitioner and the respondent at the appellate level, can both prepare and submit their briefs. In the brief, each party presents his or her arguments for the judges to read. If an oral argument is ordered, the parties also appear before a panel of judges in order to present their argument and answer any questions the judges may have. After the oral argument, the judges will take time to write and prepare an opinion on the case, which it announces a few weeks or months later. The appellate court may decide to affirm, reverse, or remand the case back to the lower court. If a defendant is unhappy with the court's decision, there may be further appeals that he or she can make.
Contact An Attorney
If you or your loved one has been convicted of a DUI offense and you wish to appeal that decision, please do not hesitate to contact Roswell DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today to discuss your case.