What Does it Take to Appeal a Case to a Higher Court?

Posted by Doug Murphy | May 16, 2023 | 0 Comments

We all know that driving when we've had too much to drink isn't a good idea. Sometimes mistakes can happen if you've been out to dinner or a game with friends and you don't realize you might have had one too many beers. Your first DWI in Texas can have serious penalties. You could face up to 180 days in jail, a license suspension, a $3,000 court-imposed fine, and a mandatory $3,000 administrative fine. But after your first DWI, penalties begin to increase dramatically. Once you reach your fourth DWI in Texas, you'll face felony charges and mandatory time in jail.

But what happens when you feel you got a bad deal and want to appeal your case? Unfortunately, it can be challenging to appeal a guilty verdict, particularly if you plead guilty. That's what a Galveston man recently discovered.

Guilty Plea for Ninth DWI

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed a Texas man serving 30 years in prison after his ninth DWI case, declining to hear his appeal. The Galveston man pled guilty to his ninth DWI and agreed to a 30-year sentence after his attorney warned him the judge could sentence him to 50 years for felony DWI. The man later decided he didn't like the sentence he agreed to and represented himself on appeal, arguing that he had “ineffective assistance of counsel.”

The Basis for Appeal in Texas

While it may seem counter-intuitive, you can't just appeal a court conviction because you're unhappy with the conviction or the sentence. You need a basis for appeal, typically either a mistake of fact or law that happened at your trial. Some of the most common grounds for appeal in Texas include:

  • Unlawful arrest: You may have a basis for an appeal if your arrest was unlawful, otherwise known as a “false arrest.” If the police didn't have probable cause to arrest you, an arrest warrant, or the basis to detain you, you may be able to argue that your arrest was unlawful. Moreover, if your arrest resulted from the police violating rules regarding the search and seizure of evidence, you may also have grounds for appeal. Texas has a “false arrest” statute that allows you to use an unlawful arrest as a basis for appeal.
  • Improper exclusion or admission of evidence: Before trial, the state prosecutor and your attorney will meet with the judge to determine the evidence and witnesses each will present at trial. If either side objects to a piece of evidence, the judge will determine whether the evidence is admissible or should be excluded. This process also happens throughout a criminal trial when each side proffers evidence and during the questioning and cross-examination of each witness. Whenever your attorney objects, the judge must rule on whether to overrule or sustain the objection. If the judge makes a mistake and allows evidence or testimony that should be excluded or excludes evidence or testimony that should be admitted, you may have grounds for appeal.
  • Jury misconduct: A basic building block of our criminal justice system is having fair and impartial jurors at trial. If a juror acts improperly during your trial or deliberations, it's a strong basis for appeal. Some examples of jury misconduct can include researching the facts of the case outside the courtroom, refusing to deliberate, and releasing confidential information during the trial that could affect the jury's impartiality.
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel: Like the Galveston man we discussed earlier, if you believe your attorney is at fault for your conviction, you may have a basis of appeal arguing that you were denied your 6th Amendment right to a fair trial. You'll need to prove that your attorney's failure to do their job directly contributed to the outcome of your trial.

If you have a basis for appeal, you still don't just get to retry the case. Your first stop will be the Texas Court of Appeals, and you must file your appeal within 30 days of your verdict.

When appealing, you can't present new witnesses, documents, affidavits, or other evidence on appeal. Rather, the Texas Court of Appeals will look at whether mistakes were made during the trial, using the record from the trial. You and your attorney will specify the grounds for appeal, pointing out where you believe the judge made mistakes in interpreting the law or the facts of the case. If the court affirms your appeal, they may remand the case to the trial court for a new trial or to hear further legal issues.

After the Texas Court of Appeals

If the Texas Court of Appeals denies your appeal, you can request a rehearing. If the Court of Appeals denies your rehearing, you may appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the final level of state appeal in criminal matters in Texas. You must file a notice of appeal that you intend to appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals within 14 days after the decision in the Court of Appeals.

You may sometimes appeal a criminal verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court typically only hears cases that involve an important matter of law that is unsettled or where there are conflicting decisions between the federal circuits. To petition the Supreme Court, your attorney will file a writ of certiorari.

Hire an Expert in Texas DWI Defense

If you're facing a DWI charge in Texas, particularly if you're facing felony DWI charges or you have multiple prior convictions, you need an expert in DWI defense on your side. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board Certified expert in Criminal Law Defense and DWI Defense in Texas. He and the Doug Murphy Law Firm team have been defending complex DWI cases in Texas for years, and they can help you too.

Doug is also well-regarded in the Houston legal community. U.S. News and World Report's Best Lawyers in America recently named him a “Lawyer of the Year” for Houston DWI Defense in 2021 and again in 2023. Find out why the media calls Doug “the drinking driver's best friend.” Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm online to schedule your consultation, or call them at 713-229-8333.

About the Author

Doug Murphy

Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and also in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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