Sometimes even with the best efforts of a skilled defense attorney, a jury will return a guilty verdict in a DUI case. If this occurs, and there are legal grounds for doing so, a defendant can appeal his or her case. This page will give you an overview of the court system in Georgia as well as the appellate process.
Georgia Court System
The Georgia court system is quite complex. There are numerous courts across the state, both trial and appellate, that hear a wide variety of cases. Different courts can hear different kinds of cases. Some courts have exclusive jurisdiction over a certain type of case, meaning that the court is the only court that has the power to adjudicate that type of case. In addition, courts can have concurrent jurisdiction over cases, meaning that multiple courts can hear the same types of cases.
There are a number of different trial level courts in Georgia. These include:
- Municipal Court: The municipal court is a court of limited jurisdiction. This court can hear a number of cases such as traffic offenses (including misdemeanor DUI cases), violations of local ordinances, shoplifting, and misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. In addition, this court can conduct preliminary hearings like arraignments as well as issue warrants. There are no jury trials in municipal court. If a defendant requests a jury trial their case will be transferred to a state or superior court. Appeals from this court are heard by the Superior Court.
- Recorder's Court: Only a few counties in Georgia have a Recorder's Court. This is also a court of limited jurisdiction and like the municipal court does not have jury trials. Recorder's Courts can handle traffic citations and code violations as well as other matters, including DUI Cases. Cases in this court can be appealed to the State Court in the proper county.
- Magistrate Court: These courts are also courts of limited jurisdiction. A magistrate court can hear a civil case involving $15,000 or less, 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 may begin in this type of court, but then will be transferred to a court with jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. Magistrate courts do not conduct jury trials and cases can be appealed to the State or Superior courts.
- State Court: State courts are still courts of limited jurisdiction, but they can hear a great range of cases than some of the other trial courts. State courts can hear civil cases that are not under the exclusive jurisdiction of the superior court. In addition, it can hear misdemeanor criminal cases, including DUI cases. O.C.G.A § 15-7-4 (2015). State courts can hold jury trials and cases from this court can be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
- Probate Court: These courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. These courts can probate wills, administer estates, conduct commitment proceedings, appoint guardians, issue marriage licenses, and issue licenses for firearms. In addition, in counties where there is no state court, probate courts can also hear other types of cases including DUI cases. O.C.G.A. § 15-9-30 (2015). Cases from Probate court are appealed to the Superior Court.
- Superior Court: The Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction in Georgia and can hear both criminal and civil matters. O.C.G.A. § 15-6-8 (2015). These courts hear 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 can be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
In addition to the 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 to handle criminal offenses and other matters involving minors.
There are two appellate courts in Georgia: the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court and the Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state of Georgia. The Court of Appeals can hear most every kind of appeal brought before it, both criminal and civil. However, it is limited in certain respects. The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain types of cases such as constitutional questions, murder, and habeas corpus. In addition, cases from the federal district court can be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
There are many reasons that a jury or judge may decide against a defendant in a DUI case. However, if this happens it is important to remember that there may be a chance to appeal the decision. An appeal is where a defendant asks a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. For example, in Georgia, if a defendant was convicted of a DUI in a State court, the defendant could appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals. If the Court of Appeals makes an unfavorable ruling, the defendant may then be able to appeal his or her case to the Supreme Court of Georgia. For more information, contact your Hall County DUI Lawyer.
How Appeals Work
Once a final judgement has been rendered a defendant can file an appeal in his or her case. In order to file an appeal, in any case, there must be grounds for doing so. The appellate court reviews questions of law, not fact. That is, the appellate court is not going to re-try the case. Instead, the court will look to see if there were any legal errors made at the lower level. For example, if the defendant objected to a piece of evidence being admitted and the lower court judge overruled the objection, the defendant can ask the appellate court to review that decision. If the appellate court believes that the trial judge was in error in admitting the evidence, the court can reverse the decision. Not every error made by the 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).
To begin an appeal, a defendant first files a Notice of Appeal with the lower court. Once the appellate court has docketed the case, the defendant and opposing party can both prepare and submit briefs. If oral argument is ordered, the parties appear before a panel of judges who hear the argument from both sides of the case, as well as ask the parties questions in order to clarify issues and gather more information. After oral argument, the judges will take time to write and prepare an opinion on the case, which it will then announce a few weeks or months later. The appellate court may decide to affirm, reverse, or remand the case. 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 and you wish to appeal the decision of the court, please do not hesitate to contact Hall County DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today.