While the punishment for misdemeanor assault is often fairly lenient, it is still a crime of violence and a conviction can carry some pretty serious collateral consequences that could follow a person for the rest of their life. Also, there is the possibility that a conviction for criminal assault could be used against them in a civil suit related to that assault.
Because of this, there are a lot of reasons why a person convicted of an assault in the General District Court would consider appealing to the Circuit Court with the help of a Virginia assault appeals lawyer.
Circuit Court provides right to a jury trial which means if someone appeals and elects to take the case before a jury only one person needs to be convinced that the defendant is not guilty in order to avoid a conviction. This can definitely be an advantage over just having a case in front of a judge who not only is the only person hearing the evidence, but is also aware of all the facts of the case that would not be admissible as evidence in front of a jury.
Another reason might be that there could be additional evidence or witnesses that have arisen in the course of the trial. The defendant in the General District Court may choose not subpoena witnesses if it is a more informal proceeding; they certainly have the right to but sometimes they may not do so.
New evidence may come to light as well or new people may agree to testify, so the defendant could possibly appeal to present new evidences. There are certainly restrictions on introducing new evidence in appeals to higher courts.
Another reason could be that the appeal to the Circuit Court could give the defendant a second crack at entering in what is called “Accord and Satisfaction.” Under Virginia law, assault cases can be disposed of by dismissal if the defendant and the complainant agree to terms where that would happen.
When this agreement is reached it is called “Accord and Satisfaction,” but such agreements have to be approved by the judge, so it is possible that a General District Court judge may reject the agreement.
Also, early on in the proceedings the complainant may not be willing to agree. By taking the case on to the Circuit Court perhaps a new judge would approve if such an agreement is reached or will give more leverage to reach an agreement with a complainant who may not be as anxious to keep the matter going.
Assault convictions or malicious wounding convictions in Circuit Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Not all appeals will be heard by this court. They have what is called a “discretionary docket” where they get to choose the cases that they take.
In order to be successful, an appellant generally has to present an error of law made by the trial court or identify an area of ambiguity in the law that it is open to interpretations.
If this is the case and there is an error of law then the Court of Appeals will consider that error and review it “de novo” which means it won’t necessarily give deference to the Circuit Court’s determination.
However, if the Virginia assault appeal case relates to an issue of fact, the Court of Appeals will give great deference to what the judge or the jury in the Circuit Courts found that fact to be and, in general, will not disturb the fact finding unless it is clearly erroneous.
Some of the reasons that a case could be appealed to the Court of Appeals which are more likely to be successful include: evidence was improperly admitted in the trial proceedings such as evidence of prior bad acts by the defendant or improper character evidence.
Character evidences are generally inadmissible during trial but there are a lot of complicated exceptions that arise often in assault cases and it is not uncommon for courts to make mistakes in interpreting and applying these rules and to include evidence that really shouldn’t have been before the courts. If the court makes this type of mistake it can definitely present an appealable issue for the defendant.
Jury instructions are another area that is quite often the grounds for appeals to the Court of Appeals. The jury is presented the law by the court and if the instructions given to the jury do not properly state the law then the Court of Appeals will consider that the jury’s determination was made on the improper instructions and could reverse.
An example of this could be if an instruction heightened the burden that the defendant had to carry to prove self-defense, or if no instruction was given to the jury that the complainant must have suffered an injury.
Instructions related to the required intent for a conviction are also areas that are often seen in appeals where the jury is instructed of the wrong intent the defendant had to have to be convicted. In such cases, an assault appeals attorney in Virginia will be vital in helping a person protect their rights.
Also, it is possible that there could be other constitutional issues on statements made during arrest and things like that as well which will be discussed further in some of the other sections.
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