The Appeals Process
People who are accused of a crime are entitled to the representation of an attorney under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Defendants have a right to representation not only at the trial level but also at least one level of direct review. However, overworked public defenders are responsible for the majority of the criminal docket nationwide. And while these dedicated public servants often have great intentions and an intense passion for justice, the reality is that most public defenders lack the time and resources to mount an adequate defense for their clients (in Louisiana, for example, the highest state court held that those represented by public defenders have a per se claim to appellant review on grounds of inadequate representation of counsel). And if a defendant has a public defender, once the judge hands down the sentence, and the initial post-conviction appeals process has been exhausted, the defendant will be left alone with the responsibility of overturning the conviction and winning their freedom. Legally, the situation is extremely difficult from that point onward. Because the defendant has already been convicted and finished post-conviction proceedings, any further review will be discretionary. This means that the higher courts can choose whether or not to hear the matter, and judges are often very reticent to grant post-conviction relief.
Typically, post-conviction appeals involve long sentences that have been handed down for serious crimes—murder, rape, burglary, etc. This is because inmates with shorter terms of incarceration are usually paroled prior to their appeals being heard. Non-violent criminals are eligible for parole after serving a mere fraction of their sentence, and even violent criminals are generally eligible for parole after serving half their sentence. However, some crimes can result in life sentences or a term of years that stretches well beyond the life expectancy of the defendant. And unfortunately, these kinds of heavy sentences are disproportionately applied to ethnic minorities and people of color. Moreover, research has shown that defendants who receive the toughest sentences are typically uneducated, young, and unable to afford private representation. The inequities in our justice system are abundant and pervasive. And often those who need quality attorney representation the most, are those that are least likely to receive adequate legal assistance.
Do not allow yourself to get swept up in an uncaring and overburdened system! Some kinds of legal mistakes are only correctable by way of appellant review (such as allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel). However, overworked public defenders rarely meet with clientele more than a few times prior to trial. Communication can be difficult! It is not unusual for a public defense attorney to create their argument and compose their brief without any substantial input from the client. This kind of hands-off approach is not conducive to victory in a court of law and may lead to feelings of alienation as the attorney conducts the case without any active involvement of the client. That is why the attorneys at Wasatch Defense Lawyers strive to involve and inform the clientele throughout the difficult legal process. We seek to make you feel heard and respected!
Post-Conviction Social Stigma
Being labeled as a stigmatized individual has a substantial effect on the way people think and feel about themselves, as well as how they are treated by others. Research into the psychology of stigma shows that labeling a person can lead to maladaptive behaviors, poor mental health, and difficulty participating in the community writ large. Convicts are a particularly stigmatized group that are relegated to status as second class citizens and further marginalized with restrictions on voting rights, housing, financial aid, employment, and other aspects of community involvement.
Stigma can have serious implications for defendants once they are released from custody. Participation and reintegration with society are essential for the successful reentry of offenders after release. Everyone needs to feel a sense of belonging. However, our society intentionally ostracizes individuals with criminal convictions. This social isolation has profoundly negative effects on an individual’s psyche. Pushed away from mainstream culture, convicts often seek community among those who are likewise ostracized. This creates a cyclical process wherein convicts are released, are unable to integrate with society, and then seek out belonging in a deviant community.
At Wasatch Defense Lawyers we want to limit the social impact of any conviction! By effectively bargaining with prosecutors, entire charges may be dismissed, and the defendant can be left with a substantially less stigmatizing record. Getting a positive outcome is not just about managing a case properly at trial, it also involves an awareness of all possible outcomes and an understanding of how to achieve those outcomes.
The Expungement Process
If a conviction is unavoidable, the social impact can still be alleviated by expunging the record. In Utah, expunging a criminal record means the court will order the history of the case to be sealed. This means that all information related to the crime (including records of arrest, investigation, detention, trial, and the conviction) will thereafter no longer be available for public review. Moreover, a person who has had their record expunged may legally tell people that the arrest of conviction never occurred, and government agencies that have received an expungement order will respond to any inquiry as though the arrest and conviction did not happen.
It is possible to expunge some, but not all, criminal conviction records. And prior to expungement, the person must pay all fines, fees, restitution, and interest owed to the court. Thereafter, the process of seeking an expungement differs markedly from other court proceedings. The defendant must apply for a Certificate of Eligibility, file documents with the courts, and serve the district attorney’s office. Then, if the request is granted, the court will order the records of arrest investigation, detention, or conviction held by any state, county, or local government office to thereafter be sealed.