Martin J. McGuinness, Esq.


The appeals process, otherwise known as the appellate process, only begins if there is a conviction after a trial. A typical felony case begins when a grand jury votes an indictment. A grand jury is a body of between 16 and 23 people. The prosecutor presents evidence to them outside the presence of the subject of the investigation, although that person has the right to testify on their own behalf. If 12 grand jurors find reasonable cause to believe that the person committed a crime, he or she is then indicted and is now a defendant in a criminal action. If the indictment withstands judicial scrutiny, the defendant proceeds to trial or pleads guilty. In either scenario - guilty plea or conviction after a trial - the defendant has the right to one automatic appeal to the Appellate Division. That's correct, a defendant can receive at least one appeal even if there is a guilty plea. If the conviction is reversed on appeal at the Appellate Division, the case is sent back (known as remitted) to the trial court. It is also possible for the Appellate Division to dismiss the indictment or particular counts of an indictment. If the conviction withstands review on appeal to the Appellate Division, then the defendant may seek to have the Court of Appeals - Our State's Highest Court - by submitting a "criminal leave application." Review by the Court of Appeals is discretionary, and only cases involving issues of statewide importance are typically heard.