Criminal Court System in New Haven
The criminal court system in Connecticut is divided at three levels. The first is the trial court, which is also called the Superior Court. The second is the Appellate Court; the third is the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The trial court, or the Superior Court, is where all criminal cases are heard. The court is broken up into two different levels. The first are the geographic area (GA) courts, which are also referred to as Low Court or Part B. They deal with the vast majority of cases.
There is also a judicial district (JD) court called Part A or High Court. This division of the Superior Court handles the more serious charges such as murder, sexual assaults, and the serious assault cases. The Superior Court is the initial court where all criminal cases begin. The GA courts handle the less serious cases. The JD courts handle the most serious cases.
If a case is appealed it will initially go to the Appellate Court. This is where the first level of review is conducted. Depending on the appeal, it is possible that any decision by the Appellate Court can be reviewed by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The Appellate Court System
The appellate court system is designed to review the trial court’s decisions. Typically, an appeal can only be filed after a final judgment. In criminal cases, a final judgment follows a guilty plea or trial that resulted in a conviction. Rarely, an interlocutory appeal can be taken under very unique circumstances.
In terms of the appeal process the first step is filing the initial appellate papers. These initial papers preserve an individual’s right to appeal and place the court on notice of the preliminary issues they intend to pursue. The next step is drafting the brief. The brief sets forth the issues, facts, legal analysis and requested relief. Once the appealing party files (the “appellant”) its brief, the other side (the “appellee”) files a response brief. Once the appellee files its brief the appellant has the opportunity to file a reply to the appellee’s brief. Once all of the briefs are submitted, the case is scheduled for oral argument before the court. Once the oral argument is conducted, the parties await the court’s written decision.
Limit on Appeals
The typical appeal occurs after someone went to trial, was convicted, and files a direct appeal. In Connecticut, a person can bring one direct appeal. The initial appeal is typically brought to the Connecticut Appellate Court. There are some circumstances where the appeal goes directly to the Connecticut Supreme Court. There are circumstances where the Connecticut Supreme Court takes the case from the Appellate Court if it involves a very unique issue.
If someone wins their appeal, the case can be remanded back to the trial court or dismissed depending on the issues before the court and relief associated with the issue. If they lose in the appellate court, they can file a petition for certification to have the Connecticut Supreme Court review the appellate court’s decision. That is just one appeal; it is the same appeal. In Connecticut, a person is entitled to one direct appeal.
Habeas Corpus Claims
Another avenue to challenge a conviction is with a habeas corpus claim where an individual challenges the criminal conviction in a civil proceeding. Often, this is referred to as an appeal, but it is actually an entirely new civil proceeding. This is sometimes called a collateral appeal. In a habeas claim, typically, someone will claim that their trial attorney made a mistake and therefore, the underlying conviction is invalid and should be reversed.
Filing an Appeal
To begin an appeal of a criminal conviction, there is documentation that must be filed with the appellate court within a certain period of time allowed under the practice book. The time period typically runs from the final judgement. In a criminal case the clock typically begins from the date the sentence is imposed, not the date of conviction.