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Understanding the differences between appeals and writs

The United States justice system is complex, and anyone involved with the law will tell you that it is not perfect.

However, someone convicted of criminal wrongdoing has the right to protest the decision and even the sentencing. This is often done through the appropriate appeal or writ.

Filing an appeal

An appeal originates at the trial court level and develops when facts show that the court misapplied the law in a particular case. The appeal can focus on the conviction alone or just on the sentencing portion of the court’s decision. For example, a defendant could appeal the length of a prison term that is beyond the maximum for the crime. The filing of an appeal can only take place after the trial court issues a final judgment or order.

The appeal versus the writ

A writ is only issued when no other options are available to the party seeking the writ. One such example is the writ of mandamus, which orders a lower court that improperly takes a particular case to transfer that case to another jurisdiction. As compared with appeals, which require a final verdict to move forward, writs are immediate orders that possibly disrupt or delay a trial. A higher court will only issue a writ when a lower court erred in deciding an issue, causing possible harm to a party.

A writ of habeas corpus

A writ of habeas corpus is a court order normally filed by someone serving time in prison or by someone threatened with imprisonment. It is a legal tool to protest imprisonment, usually citing illegal incarceration or inhumane prison conditions. The court does not issue writs often and must have convincing evidence to support a writ of habeas corpus.

Moving forward

Anyone who wishes to appeal a verdict or sentencing decision should explore the legal options available. In our state, either the state appellate court or the Illinois Supreme Court handles many arguments and appellate briefs.

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