The appeals process begins immediately after a verdict and sentence are issued by the judge in the lower trial court (which is called a "superior court" in Arizona, “district court” in Texas, Kansas and also in the federal system, or a “circuit court” in Missouri). After that court makes a final judgment, the defendant can appeal, and does so by filing a short document entitled “Notice of Appeal.” This document is actually filed with the clerk of the trial court, who then begins the process of transferring the case files to the appellate court. Meanwhile, the attorney who will be handling the appeal for the defendant begins formulating issues to be argued to the judges of the court of appeals and identifying the documents the trial court’s clerk will need to transmit over to the appellate court.
In appellate courts, the attorney for the defense will try to convince a panel of judges that the prosecution or trial court committed legal errors, which should result in an order for a retrial, a reduction of sentence, or a reversal of the conviction and dismissal of all charges. If this appeal fails, the defendant can try appealing again to the state or federal supreme court.
Although a post-conviction case differs in many significant respects from an appeal, both are pursued with the goal in mind of reversing a conviction or shortening a sentence. While post-conviction litigation is explained elsewhere on this website and in the blog section, keep in mind that a defendant who loses a post-conviction challenge can appeal the denial of post-conviction relief, just as he or she did in their direct appeal.