Many defendants who are convicted file an appeal, which allows them to ask an appellate court to determine whether errors occurred at their trial that would warrant a new trial or acquittal. The Appellate Unit of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office represents the state of Texas in all appeals from misdemeanor and felony convictions in Tarrant County. The Unit consists of 15 attorneys and five support staff.
Criminal appeals in Texas are heard by the fourteen intermediate courts of appeals and/or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – the highest court in Texas for criminal cases. Defendants allege errors they believe occurred at their trial by filing a written brief with the appropriate appellate court. The Appellate Unit then files a written brief in response.
After the appellate court renders its written opinion, either party may request a rehearing in the Court of Appeals or seek discretionary review of the opinion by the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. Cases in which a death sentence was assessed are automatically appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals. In certain circumstances, decisions of the Court of Criminal Appeals can be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.
As the crime rate and number of criminal courts has grown in Tarrant County, so has the workload of the Appellate Unit. From January 2010 through September 2011, the Unit filed more than 500 briefs with Texas’ appellate courts and made numerous oral arguments. The Unit strives to maintain its high degree of legal scholarship under an ever-increasing caseload.
In addition to direct appeals, the Appellate Unit also handles all post-conviction writs of habeas corpus concerning Tarrant County. Post-conviction writs of habeas corpus address constitutional errors that render a conviction void or other issues that could not have been raised on direct appeal. In 2010, applicants filed 256 post-conviction writs of habeas corpus, requiring the Appellate Unit to answer 221 writs. Many of these required evidentiary hearings in the convicting trial courts so that findings of fact and conclusions of law could be filed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Appellate Unit has distinguished itself as one of the most respected and successful appellate prosecution units in Texas. Between 2006 and November 2011, our attorneys have argued cases before courts of appeals in Fort Worth, Amarillo, Eastland, Texarkana, El Paso and Waco. During that time, the Unit was involved in about 175 published cases from various appellate courts, including the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court.
The Appellate Unit provides other valuable services inside the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s office and to the law enforcement community. Trial prosecutors in the office regularly consult with the Appellate Unit on legal issues that arise during trial. The availability and quality of this advice often means the difference between victory or defeat. Many of the Unit’s attorneys also speak at legal seminars across the state and informally advise prosecutors in other offices.