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When Can You Appeal a Criminal Conviction on Constitutional Grounds?

Most people understand that they have constitutional rights, and that a violation of their constitutional rights might mean that their arrest and/or conviction for a crime means that they may have their charges dropped or conviction overturned. But what exactly are these constitutional rights, and when can a person facing conviction, or who has just been convicted, win their freedom based on those rights?

 

The complete answer to that question could fill several textbooks, but, for a person facing conviction and/or prison, it is important to understand the basics of what those constitutional rights are and when they might lead to a successful appeal. Here are the three basic issues that arise with regards to criminal trials and your constitutional rights.

The Police Violated Your Constitutional Rights

A number of your constitutional rights relate to the limits placed on police officers and law enforcement members in investigating criminal activity, arresting suspects, and gathering evidence for a criminal trial.

 

The basics of these rights include:

  • Police may not violate your Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. This means, among other things, they cannot search you, your vehicle, your house, or other property unless they have a constitutionally valid reason to do so, such as a warrant.
  • Police may not violate your Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination by forcing you to give incriminating information after you have requested a lawyer. They may also not perform a custodial interrogation of you without reading you your rights.
  • Once formal criminal proceedings begin, such as an arraignment, you must be given access to a lawyer based on your Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

 

If any of these rights are violated, the evidence obtained against you such as confessions or physical evidence found on you could be excluded from trial.

Your Constitutional Rights Were Violated at Trial

Even if the police acted perfectly in collecting evidence against an individual, he or she is still constitutionally guaranteed to have a fair criminal trial. If there is not a fair criminal trial, any conviction could be overturned.

 

Potential grounds for arguing there was an unconstitutional trial include:

  • The prosecution used illegal methods to select the jury, such as excluding jurors based on race or gender
  • You did not receive effective assistance of counsel during your trial
  • You were not given the right to cross-examine witnesses who testified against you

 

Note that these are only the constitutional guarantees to a fair trial. There are numerous other protections given to defendants by state and federal law, and, if they are violated, could result in overturning the conviction.

The Law You Violated Was Unconstitutional

Finally, in some cases, a court may determine that the law itself that a person was convicted of violating was unconstitutional. For example, under the First Amendment you have the right to free speech as well as the right to free exercise of your religion. If you were convicted of a crime based on activity protected by your right to free speech or free exercise (or any other constitutional right), a court might declare the law unconstitutional, meaning your conviction will be overturned.

 

In addition, other arguments could be made that a law is unconstitutional, such as that it was too vague or overbroad.

Help in Your Washington and California Appeal

The Law Office of Corey Evan Parker is focused on the civil and criminal appeals process in Washington and California. If you are considering filing a criminal or civil appeal, feel free to contact Mr. Parker today for a no obligation 30-minute consultation.