How to Overturn a Conviction in Arizona

Arizona residents may wonder what the next step is after a jury returns a guilty verdict in a criminal case. A criminal conviction is not necessarily the end of the road. The law provides safeguards to help protect those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Overturning an Arizona based conviction

Overturn Your Arizona Conviction

Motion for a New Trial

The first step for many who have been convicted of a crime is often a Motion for a New Trial. The defendant may request a new trial within 10 days after the verdict is entered. However, the law also allows the judge request a new trial on his own motion after a defendant is convicted or sentenced to death. The defendant must consent to the new trial. A motion for new trial may address either the verdict or the death penalty in a capital case.

Reasons a New Trial May Be Granted

A new trial may be granted if a defendant is able to establish that the verdict goes against the law or the evidence presented, that the judge entered a ruling that substantially prejudiced the defendant, the defendant did not receive a fair and impartial trial, or the prosecutor or jury engaged in misconduct.

Juror misconduct can take many forms, including:

Motion to Vacate Judgment

When new evidence is discovered or it is determined that the verdict violated either the laws of the United States or Arizona, the defendant may file a Motion to Vacate Judgment. This motion must be filed within 60 days after the judgment is entered. Another option is to file a Motion for Modification of Sentence, also within 60 days. Both of these motions must be filed before any appeal is perfected.

Motion to Correct the Record

Sometimes, mistakes are made in converting a verbal order to writing or in copying information to the docket. If the clerk makes a mistake in a judgment, verdict, or other other part of the record, or if there are other errors that are the result of an obvious oversight or mistake, the defendant can file a motion to correct the record. These motions may be brought at any time.

If a post-trial motion is denied, it may be possible to appeal the denial of the motion, the original verdict, or both.

Notice of Appeal

A person who has been convicted of a crime may appeal the conviction, a finding that the person is guilty but insane, the judge's denial of a motion for new trial, an illegal or excessive sentence, or a post-trial order that substantially affects the person's rights[1].

Initiating an Appeal

To initiate an appeal, the defendant (now call the appellant) files a Notice of Appeal with the clerk of the Superior Court that entered the conviction. A copy of the Notice must be given to the state. The clerk of the court then notifies the Court of Appeals that the case is being appealed. There is no fee for filing a criminal appeal. If the defendant is indigent, he may request that fees for necessary transcripts be waived[2].

What is an Appeal?

An appeal is not a new trial. The Court of Appeals does not hear witnesses, call a jury, or accept new evidence. What happens on appeal is that a three-panel judge reviews the record of the original case to determine whether the judge made mistakes that make it unlawful for the conviction to stand.

The Appeal Process

Once the appeal is docketed, the appellant files a brief, explaining the history of the case, what happened in the lower court, and why the decision is contrary to law. The state then files an Appellee's Brief in which it refutes the appellant's arguments. In some cases, the appellant may be permitted to file a shorter Reply Brief. It is then up to the Court of Appeals to determine whether to allow oral argument. Oral arguments tend to be fairly short, so all arguments that the appellants wants considered must be included in the brief. New arguments will not be allowed at the hearing.

If the Court of Appeals agrees with the appellant's argument, it has the ability to vacate the judgement and return the case to the Superior Court for a new trial. Sometimes, the court will uphold a verdict but reverse a sentence and remand for re-sentencing only. If the Court disagrees, they will uphold the verdict. In that case, the appellant has the ability to seek review by the Supreme Court of Arizona. The Supreme Court may decline to review a case unless the appellant has been sentenced to the death penalty[3]. If they decline to review a case, the lower court's judgment stands.

The attorney that assisted at trial may be able to help with getting an attorney appointed to assist with the appeal, if the person cannot afford to pay a lawyer [4].

Writ of Habeas Corpus

The last stop for someone who has been wrongfully convicted of a crime is to file a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. It is possible to seek a writ earlier in some cases, but it is mostly commonly reserved for after all appeals have been exhausted. This procedure can be used to contest the legality of the original arrest, the conviction, or conditions of the person's imprisonment. If the court finds that the state's detention of someone is unlawful, that person must be released.

The Supreme Court of Arizona has original jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus cases involving violations of state law[5]. The United States District Court hears cases involving violations of federal law.

The Supreme Court of Arizona has original jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus cases involving violations of state law[6].The United States District Court hears cases involving violations of federal law.

For more legal information, visit our legal articles page or take our free online eligibility test to determine if your record is eligible to be cleared.