A person convicted of a crime may appeal the conviction, claiming the trial proceedings did not comply with the law. A higher court reviews the claimed legal error(s) in the original trial based on the record that was made during the trial. The appellate courts do not receive new or additional evidence or testimony. They determine if there was sufficient evidence and/or if the trial was conducted properly. The judges who serve on both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals are elected by popular vote in seven districts across the state. Judges serve for a term of eight years.
How does the appeals process work?
After a conviction, the trial court schedules a sentencing hearing. If the defendant wishes to appeal the conviction, he or she must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of sentencing. The record of the original trial is prepared and certified. Then the defendant has 60 days to prepare his or her brief, or statement of arguments, as to why the conviction should be reversed or dismissed.
Office of Criminal Appeals in the Office of the Attorney General is responsible for representing the Commonwealth in all criminal appeals. When the defendant’s brief is received, the Commonwealth has 60 days to respond to defense arguments. Both sides may be granted extensions of time to prepare their briefs. The appellate court reviews these written arguments. The court may schedule an oral argument in the case, but oral arguments are not heard in every case. This hearing is limited to a 15-minute presentation by each party where attorneys present their views of the case. There will be no new evidence or testimony at this hearing. These hearings are open to the public, and crime victims or interested parties may attend. You can now watch a live stream of oral arguments being presented to the Kentucky Supreme Court. If you would like to watch an oral argument via the internet, please go to
courts.ky.gov/courts/supreme and click on “Supreme Court-LIVE”.
Usually the court issues a decision several months after an oral argument. If the conviction is upheld or affirmed, the defendant may ask for further review of the case. If the conviction is set aside or reversed, the appellate court may order that a new trial be held, or dismiss some or all of the charges. The “losing side” may ask the court to reconsider its decision or appeal that decision to a higher court.
Kentucky Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals is composed of 14 judges, one of whom is elected by the others as the chief judge. A panel of three judges reviews the criminal cases from the Circuit Courts. These hearings are usually held in Frankfort, but the court may schedule hearings in different locations across the state.
Kentucky Supreme Court
The Kentucky Supreme Court is composed of seven justices, one of whom is elected by the others as the chief justice. When a defendant is sentenced by the circuit court to 20 years or more, life imprisonment or death, any appeal on that judgment is taken directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals. Additionally, the Supreme Court may also review decisions of the Court of Appeals.