Criminal cases often do not end with a verdict at trial. A defendant has the right to appeal his or her conviction to one of the two appellate courts of the Commonwealth for a determination of whether the judge, the prosecutor, or the defense attorney committed certain legal errors which prevented the defendant from receiving a fair trial.
The Hampden District Attorney’s office has an experienced Appellate Unit, which handles post-conviction and other appellate matters.
Appeals Following Conviction
The main function of the Appellate Unit is to handle appeals after convictions, which are heard by either the Massachusetts Appeals Court or the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which is the highest court in the Commonwealth. The Supreme Judicial Court hears all appeals from first-degree murder convictions. The Appeals Court decides all other appeals, unless the Supreme Judicial Court elects to transfer the case from the Appeals Court.
If the appellate court determines that the defendant did not receive a fair trial, it may vacate the conviction and order a new trial, or, in certain cases, enter a judgment for the defendant. The defendant or the Commonwealth may file an application for further appellate review asking the Supreme Judicial Court to review the Appeals Court’s decision.
Handling an appeal requires the Appellate Unit to:
- examine the trial transcript
- review the arguments contained in the defendant’s brief;
- research the various legal issues presented by the defendant;
- write the brief for submission to the appropriate appellate court;
- argue the case before a panel of the Supreme Judicial Court or a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court.
Other Duties of the Appellate Unit
The Appellate Unit also:
- Handles interlocutory appeals, which are filed either by the Commonwealth or by the defendant during the course of a trial rather than after a conviction;
- Opposes defendants’ motions for a new trial, which are filed in the Superior Court;
- Opposes motions for stays of execution of sentences pending appeal;
- Provides legal support to the trial prosecutors in murder prosecutions and other designated cases;
- Answers public records requests;
- Coordinates training programs for the District Attorney’s staff and for the law enforcement community;