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Alex Murdaugh's criminal appeals process explained

If Alex Murdaugh exhausts all his appeal options for this murder conviction, local lawyers unaffiliated with the case say it could take 6-8 years.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's been over a week now since Alex Murdaugh was found guilty of killing his wife Maggie and son Paul. Now that the trial is over, several people are wondering what happens next. 

Just last week, Alex Murdaugh's attorneys filed a notice of appeal on his murder convictions.

According to local and regional attorneys not directly connected to the Murdaugh case, what this means is now Alex has three avenues of possible relief: Direct appeal, post conviction relief and writ of habeas corpus.

These attorneys not tied to the case explain that a direct order of an appeal first goes before the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Next it passes to the South Carolina Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court, where his trial attorneys or a new appellate attorney can argue the errors that occurred in the trial. 

Elizabeth Franklin-Best is an appellate attorney in Columbia. She tells News 19 after direct appeal comes post conviction relief.

"Then he'll have the opportunity to file what's called a post conviction relief petition and that is something that would be filed in the circuit where he was convicted, so it would be filed in Colleton County. He would be entitled to an attorney there and that would be his opportunity to raise any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, the kinds of claims that typically require additional factual development," Franklin-Best said.

The last avenue lawyers explain is writ of habeas corpus. They explain that in this stage of appeals, Alex Murdaugh could reiterate all his prior appeal reasonings in addition to arguing that his defense trial lawyers did not effectively assist him. In this stage, the case would go the South Carolina Federal District Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Miller Shealy is a professor at the Charleston School of Law specializing in criminal procedure. 

"We've gone through the trial and appeal with one pillar. We've got the post conviction relief up the second pillar. That's four years probably from today, maybe it's four and a half if it comes to that. And then there's a third pillar that can run another year and a half or two years and that's [when] the defendant can go to U.S. District Court," Shealy said.

If none of that works, local appellate attorneys explain there are few exceptions for Alex Murdaugh. An example would be new evidence found showing his innocence or the prosecution failing to turn over evidence pointing to someone else committing the crimes.

Columbia appellate attorney Elizabeth Franklin-Best tells News 19 she believes Alex is prepared with lawyers for next steps.

"Somebody like Alex Murdaugh who was an attorney himself surely understood the importance of getting very trained appellate counsel retained on the front end in case it came to this eventuality, so I think he's got somebody who's prepared to pick up the ball and carry it from here forward," Franklin-Best said.

Both Franklin-Best and Shealy explain they anticipate Alex's financial crimes will be a focus of the appeal, with the possibility of his lawyers saying the ruling was based on prior bad acts or character and not motive.

We also know from Alex Murdaugh's defense attorneys that they will take it to the top. Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin spoke earlier this month, shortly after Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison.

"We'll file a notice of intention to appeal and then we've got 30 days I think to file a brief. Yeah, so you file the notice within 10 days. You've got to get a transcript and that'll take months, where they type up everything and then we start briefing. 'Reporter: Are you all going to handle the appeal?' Yes. 'Reporter: And are you in the court of appeals and the supreme court?' And the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, that's correct," Harpootlian and Griffin said.

Lawyers tell News 19 that with all these options in the judicial system for appeals, at best, there is potential for a new trial for Alex Murdaugh in the coming years. According to these lawyers, if Alex Murdaugh exhausts all his appeals options in his double murder conviction, it could run another 6 - 8 years.

They also explain that the high profile nature of the case will fade at the U.S. Supreme Court level. 

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