The procedures for appeals in SC are complex and unforgiving – at every stage in the process, there are strict deadlines. If a deadline is missed, your appeal could be dismissed before the appellate court even hears your case, or you could be prohibited from even filing an appeal.

To make matters worse, there are different rules and procedures for different types of appeals in SC – the rules for appealing a felony conviction in General Sessions Court are different than the rules for appealing lower court convictions, civil judgments in Common Pleas Court, post-conviction relief (PCR) proceedings, or decisions in the Administrative Courts. 

In this article, you will learn:

  • How to appeal a felony conviction from General Sessions Court,
  • What a notice of appeal is,
  • What happens after you win or lose your appeal, and
  • What other options are available for post-conviction relief.

First, let’s take a look at the basic components of an appeal from SC’s General Sessions Court.

How to Appeal a Felony Conviction in SC

In this article, we are specifically talking about criminal convictions in SC’s General Sessions Court – the procedure for misdemeanor convictions in SC’s General Sessions Court is the same as the procedure for how to appeal a felony conviction. 

What matters is that this process, which applies to any criminal conviction in General Sessions Court, is different than the process for misdemeanor appeals from the magistrate or municipal courts.

Deadline for Notice of Appeal

The first critical deadline that you have when filing any appeal is the Notice of Appeal. If you do not file your Notice of Appeal within the deadline, your appeal will be rejected by the appellate court and they will not hear your case.

Although there are some exceptions, your Notice of Appeal must be filed within ten days of the conviction or within ten days of receipt of the trial court’s ruling on any post-trial motions that have been filed (do not file the Notice of Appeal until after the trial court rules on post-trial motions).

Who Files the Notice of Appeal?

If you contact us immediately after your conviction, we may file the Notice of Appeal on your behalf. In most cases, however, your trial attorney (or plea attorney) will file the Notice of Appeal – they are required to file the Notice when you ask them, so make sure you are clear that you want to file a Notice of Appeal and put it in writing to your attorney if possible. 

The Notice of Appeal must be filed in both the Court of Appeals and the Court of General Sessions, and the Rules require that the Notice (as well as other filings) be submitted in a specific format and served on all parties to the case.

Other Deadlines in the Appeal Process

The time limit for the Notice of Appeal is only the first in a series of deadlines that must be met during the appeal process. Other deadlines, documents that must be filed, what must be included in them, and the format in which they must be filed, are outlined in the appellate court rules, including deadlines for:

  • Ordering the transcripts of all proceedings and notifying the appellate court,
  • Notification to the court when the transcripts are received,
  • Filing of the Initial Briefs,
  • Filing of the Designation of Matter to be included in the Record on Appeal,
  • Filing the Record on Appeal, and
  • Filing of the Final Briefs.

The Procedure for a Criminal Appeal from General Sessions Court

What is the procedure for a criminal appeal? Although the process may vary slightly from case to case, the basics include:

  • Filing the Notice of Appeal,
  • Ordering the transcripts from the trial and other court proceedings,
  • Review of the transcripts and other documents and researching the legal issues that we will raise with the appellate court,
  • Drafting the Initial Brief that outlines the legal issues and why the appellate court should reverse the conviction,
  • Review of the State’s Answer to your Initial Brief and researching, drafting, and filing a Reply when appropriate,
  • Compiling and filing the Record on Appeal,
  • Filing the Final Briefs, which should be identical to the Initial Briefs except the Final Briefs will contain the proper citations to the Record on Appeal,
  • Oral arguments (although the appellate may choose to decide the case without oral argument), and
  • Waiting….

When I Appeal a Felony Conviction How Long Does It Take?

An appeal from a criminal conviction will not be resolved quickly. It could take a year or more. If the case is appealed to higher courts or if other post-conviction remedies are pursued, it could take multiple years before you have a final answer.

There is no Rule that says how long the appellate court has to make their decision – once the briefs are filed and the case has been argued, we wait.

What Issues Can I Raise When I Appeal a Felony Conviction?

In your appellate briefs, you will outline specific issues for the Court that you believe were decided wrongly in the trial court (or plea court). But what issues can you raise in a criminal appeal? 

In a direct appeal, you can only raise errors of law made by the judge. If there are mistakes that were made by the defense attorney, they have to be raised in a separate PCR action (that is usually not filed until after the appeals are finished). 

A direct appeal – an appeal from the Circuit Court (General Sessions) to the Court of Appeals – can only raise issues that relate to mistakes made by the judge. 

For example, if your attorney makes a pretrial motion to suppress a bag of cocaine found in the trunk of your car because the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights during the search, and the trial court denies your attorney’s motion, that may be an error made by the judge that you can raise on direct appeal. 

Or, if your attorney objects to a state’s witness’ testimony about your prior convictions for murder, and the trial court overrules your attorney’s objection, that may be an error made by the judge that you can raise on direct appeal. 

In PCR, or post-conviction relief proceedings – a separate lawsuit that you would ordinarily file after your direct appeal has been denied or when there are no grounds for a direct appeal, you can raise issues that relate to your attorney’s performance (ineffective assistance of counsel). 

For example, if there were grounds to suppress the bag of cocaine found in the trunk of your car, but your attorney never made the motion, you cannot raise this on direct appeal. But you may be able to allege ineffective assistance of counsel in a PCR action later. 

Or, if a state’s witness testifies about your prior murder conviction, and your attorney does not object, you cannot raise this on direct appeal. But you may be able to allege ineffective assistance of counsel in a PCR action later.

Errors committed by the trial attorney are typically only raised in PCR proceedings (or habeas review in the federal court), while errors committed by the judge are raised on direct appeal.

What Happens After the Appeal?

What happens after the appeal? 

Win or lose, is it over? It might be, but not necessarily…

If You Win Your Appeal

If the Court of Appeals agrees with you that the trial court made a mistake, that does not automatically mean that your case is over. In most cases, it also does not mean that your charges are dismissed (although it could, if directed verdict should have been granted or if the trial court must now suppress key evidence in your case). 

Depending on the facts of your case, the next steps could be:

  • The state might appeal the Court of Appeals decision to the next-higher court, in which case the process will begin again in the SC Supreme Court. Or the state might choose not to appeal the Court of Appeals’ decision.
  • If the state does not appeal further, the case might be remanded (sent back to the trial court) for a new trial, which means you return to the county jail to await a second trial unless you are granted bond. You are back at square one, and any charges that the state dismissed in consideration of the guilty verdict or guilty plea may be reinstated as well.
  • If a directed verdict was an issue on appeal, the case could be remanded with instructions to grant a directed verdict – if this happens your case is over unless you have additional charges pending.
  • If suppression of evidence was an issue on appeal, the case could be remanded with instructions to suppress the evidence – if this happens your case might be over if the evidence suppressed was critical to the state’s case, or you may be facing a retrial where the jurors do not hear about the suppressed evidence or testimony.
  • If the only issue on appeal was sentencing, your case could be remanded for resentencing only.

What happens next depends on the issues that were raised on appeal, what the appellate court orders as relief, and whether the state chooses to appeal further to the SC Supreme Court.

If You Lose Your Appeal

If you lose your criminal appeal, that is also not necessarily the end of your case. You may have multiple options that include:

  • Asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider their decision when appropriate,
  • Appealing the Court of Appeals’ decision to the SC Supreme Court,
  • Filing a post-conviction relief (PCR) action in the Court of Common Pleas, and
  • Filing a habeas petition asking the federal court to review the state courts’ decision (although federal habeas has strict requirements which include “exhaustion” of all state remedies).

The bottom line is, win or lose, there is a real possibility that your case may not be over. And, even if you win, you may have to continue the fight in the trial court.

Questions About Criminal Appeals in SC?

If you believe that you have grounds for an appeal from a felony conviction in SC, get an experienced criminal appeals attorney on your side immediately who can help you to navigate the complex rules of SC appellate procedure.

Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.

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