The Criminal Appeals Section defends felony criminal convictions obtained by the State’s 114 county prosecuting attorneys and the circuit attorney for St. Louis City. The section represents the State in Missouri appellate courts in all felony appeals, felony postconviction appeals, and in appeals involving the commitment of sexually violent predators to the Department of Mental Health. Section attorneys appear regularly in Missouri’s appellate courts in hundreds of cases each year.
The work performed by the attorneys and staff in Criminal Appeals benefits Missourians in many ways. In defending lawfully obtained convictions, the section ensures that crime victims receive justice and that the public is protected from violent and dangerous offenders. In seeking to uphold the law, the section promotes respect for the law and preserves the constitutional rights of all Missourians, including those accused of crimes. The mission of Criminal Appeals is not to mindlessly defend every conviction, but to make certain that criminal convictions can ultimately be viewed with confidence. To that end, attorneys approach each case with an eye toward ensuring both that justice has been done and that the rights of the accused have been protected.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an appeal?
After being convicted, a defendant may appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals, claiming there was some legal error made during trial which affected the fairness of the trial. Some of the typical claims of error made by defendants include:
- That the State did not present enough evidence to prove all of the elements of the crime;
- That there was a violation of the rules of jury selection;
- That the court wrongfully allowed or did not allow certain evidence to be admitted;
- That there was a flaw in the instructions of law given to the jury; or
- That the prosecutor said something unfair during closing argument.
The appeal is not a new trial, and the facts found during the trial which support the guilty verdict will apply to the Court of Appeals’ decisions regarding the legal issues raised.
How long does an appeal take?
What happens in an appeal?
The following steps occur in an appeal:
- Notice of Appeal: A defendant has 10 days from the date of final sentencing to file a notice of appeal in the circuit court. That notice will be sent by the circuit court to one of the three Courts of Appeal, depending on which county the trial was held: The Western District in Kansas City, the Eastern District in St. Louis, or the Southern District in Springfield. The “Jurisdiction” link at each Court’s Web site shows which counties are in each Court’s jurisdiction.
A few cases — such as when the defendant receives the death penalty or where the defendant claims a law is unconstitutional — will be filed directly in the Missouri Supreme Court.
- Record on Appeal: Within 90 days of filing the notice of appeal, the defendant (now referred to as an appellant) will file the record on appeal. The record on appeal consists of a legal file (documents filed with the circuit court during the original proceeding) and the transcripts of the trial, sentencing hearings, and any other hearings which are needed to resolve the issues on appeal. The court may grant the appellant an extension of time if the appellant has a reason for asking, such as if there is a delay in the court reporter completing the transcript.
- Appellant’s Brief: The appellant’s brief, which is filed first, raises the issues he or she wants to raise on appeal. The appeal will almost always be limited to these legal issues. The appellant has 60 days to file the brief, although the court may extend that amount of time if requested.
- Respondent’s Brief: The state (also referred to as the respondent) will file a brief answering the claims raised by the appellant. The Attorney General represents the state in all felony appeals. In appeals from misdemeanors, the prosecutor from the county where the case was tried will represent the state. This brief is due 30 days after the appellant’s brief is filed, although the court may extend that amount of time if requested.
- Appellant’s Reply Brief: The appellant may, but is not required to, file a reply brief replying to arguments made in the respondent’s brief. This brief is due 15 days after the respondent’s brief is filed, although the Court may extend that amount of time if requested.
- Submission of the Case: Following the completion of all of the briefs, the court will schedule the case for submission, meaning it is assigned to a panel of three judges to decide the issues raised on appeal. A case is submitted one of two ways. The court can schedule an oral argument at which attorneys for each side will present a brief argument about the points raised on appeal and the court will ask the attorneys any questions it has about the issues. The court can also submit the case “on the briefs,” meaning the court will make its decision based on the arguments raised in the briefs without any oral argument.
- Opinion: After the case is submitted, the judges take the case under consideration and decide how to resolve the case. One of the judges then writes an opinion, which explains the legal reasons why the Court reached the decision it did. The Court then issues the opinion, notifying the parties of its decision and reasoning. The issuing of an opinion can take as little as a week or as long as several months. The Eastern District and Western District issue opinions every Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court issues opinions on Tuesday afternoons one or two times per month, and the Southern District may issue opinions at any time.
- Post-Opinion Motions: The party who loses the appeal may file post-opinion motions. First, the party can file a motion for the court to rehear the case and reconsider its decision. This is not usually granted, but if it is the court will typically issue a new opinion with no other briefs or argument being made. Second, the party can ask the Court of Appeals to transfer the case to the Missouri Supreme Court. This will only be granted if there is some issue of “general interest or importance” which the Court believes the Supreme Court needs to resolve or for the purpose of reexamining existing law. These two requests are usually made in the same motion, and must be filed within 15 days of the opinion being issued. If the party loses both of those requests, the party has 15 days to make an Application for Transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court, claiming that the case raises an issue of general interest or importance, existing law needs to be reexamined, or the Court of Appeals opinion is contrary to a previous decision of an appellate court of this state. These motions are also rarely granted. If transfer is granted, the parties are given 20 days each to file a substitute brief and the Court schedules an oral argument (unless a prisoner representing himself or herself is one of the parties). The Court may then issue its own opinion, which controls over the Court of Appeals opinion, or it may retransfer the case to the Court of Appeals, meaning that the Court of Appeals opinion will control. The Supreme Court also permits a motion for rehearing within 15 days, although these are also rarely granted.
- Mandate: After the time ends for filing a post-opinion motion or the Missouri Supreme Court denies an application for transfer, the Court issues a mandate to the Circuit Court, which officially ends the appeal.
If I am a crime victim, how may I be kept informed of the progress of an appeal?
Victims of crime are entitled to be kept informed of the progress of an appeal. If the case is a misdemeanor, contact the office of the prosecutor who tried the case to notify them that you want to be kept informed. If the case is a felony, you need to notify the Attorney General’s Office in writing that you want to be kept informed. You can do so by completing an online form available on our website.
You can also keep track of the case progress on the Internet through Case.net, the State’s case tracking system. Click on litigant name, select the proper Court from the drop-down menu, enter the appellant’s first and last names, and click on the appropriate case number. Select “Docket Entries” on the next page and follow the instructions, which will then show you everything that has occurred during the appeal so far.
As a crime victim, may I attend the oral argument in the Court of Appeals? May I make a statement?
Statements from people other than the attorneys and judges are not permitted at the oral argument. If you made a statement at trial or sentencing, however, that is included in the trial transcript, which the Court will read.
Will the defendant be at the oral argument?
Can the state appeal if the defendant wins at trial?
Post – Conviction Actions
What is a motion for post-conviction relief?
Where does the post-conviction action take place?
What happens in a post-conviction action?
- Pro se Motion: The defendant files a motion for post-conviction relief. This first motion is called a pro se (pro SAY) motion, as it is almost always filed by the defendant himself rather than through an attorney. The defendant must file this motion either 90 days after the appellate court mandate concluding the direct appeal if the defendant filed a direct appeal, or 180 days after the court’s judgment and sentence is entered if he or she did not appeal the conviction.
- If the defendant (now called the movant) is indigent, the motion court will appoint him counsel and counsel has up to 90 days to file an amended motion. The amended motion will contain the only issues that may be raised during the action.
- The trial court (now called the motion court) then will decide if an evidentiary hearing is needed based on what claims are properly raised. If a hearing is needed, the court will hold one. The movant may or may not be at this hearing, depending on the decision of the motion court.
- The motion court issues “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” declaring its decision and explaining the legal reasons for it.
- The losing party then may appeal. The appeal is the same as for the original appeal described above, except that the movant has only 30 days to file the record on appeal if only a legal file is required, or 60 days if an evidentiary hearing transcript and a legal file are required.