Board Certified in Criminal Appellate Law by TBLS

At last count, approximately 134 attorneys have earned their status as board certified in criminal appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. This specialty area of criminal appellate law was launched in 2011. 

For purposes of specialty certification, the term "criminal appellate law" is defined to include appellate court proceedings following criminal convictions, including those in appellate courts as well as those in trial courts seeking the release of an incarcerated person.

Attorneys focused on criminal appellate law in Texas are in appeals or defenses of judgments/orders in a criminal law matter, or juvenile adjudication, to:

  • the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
  • a Texas Court of Appeals
  • a United States District Court
  • a United States Circuit Court of Appeals
  • the United States Supreme Court.

Use the Lawyer Legion directory to find a list of attorneys in Texas who are board certified in criminal appellate law.

Skills Needed for Criminal Appellate Law Specialist

Attorneys who are board certified in criminal appellate law have demonstrated their ability to:

  • Evaluate the merits of a possible appeal
  • Develop an appellate strategy and identify remedies
  • Draft motions, briefs, habeas applications for state and federal courts
  • Identify applicable deadlines and requisites of filings
  • Conduct investigations and research; assimilate and review records
  • Use appropriate citation forms and precedent
  • Distinguish effective briefs on direct appeal from those on discretionary review
  • Draft motions and findings relating to trial court determinations
  • Distinguish state and federal requirements for briefs and habeas application

Standards for Certification in Criminal Appellate Law

Attorneys who are board certified in Criminal Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS) have demonstrated the following qualifications:

  • Practice law fulltime for at least 5 years as an active member of the State Bar of Texas;
  • Meet all of the TBLS Standards for Attorney Certification;
  • At least 3 years of Criminal Appellate Law experience with a yearly minimum 25% substantial involvement with Criminal Appellate Law matters;
  • Qualified vetted references from judges and lawyers in the area;
  • Performed substantial work in drafting the pleadings or brief for a party in a minimum of 50 Criminal Appellate cases with a minimum of 5 oral arguments at a Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a United States Circuit Court of Appeals, or the United States Supreme Court during their entire practice;
  • Complete 60 hours of TBLS approved continuing legal education in Criminal Appellate Law; and
  • Pass a comprehensive 6-hour examination in Criminal Appellate Law. Click here to review the Exam Specifications.

The Exam for Criminal Appellate Law Specialists

Attorneys who are board certified in criminal appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS) have passed an exam that demonstrates their substantial knowledge of significant legal concepts and corresponding skills in criminal appellate law.

The exam consists of a three-hour morning session with three essay questions each worth 100 points and a three-hour afternoon session with 100 multiple-choice questions (10 of which involve professional ethics) each worth 2 points. The required passing score is 350.

The TBLS Exam Specifications for criminal appellate law were revised on July of 2019. An attorney who applies to become board certified in criminal appellate law is expected to understand the entire process of appeals of state and federal criminal cases, as well as applications for extraordinary relief and post-conviction writ proceedings in state and federal court including:

  1. Matters Arising in the Trial Court (State and Federal)
    1. Motion for new trial
    2. Preservation of error
    3. Certification of appeal
    4. Perfection of appeal
    5. Appeals from deferred adjudication and motions to revoke
    6. Orders and judgments that can be appealed
    7. Post-judgment orders, e.g., nunc pro tunc, resentencing, restitution
    8. The appellate record
    9. Indigency on appeal/appointed counsel/free record
  2. Direct Appeal (State Courts of Appeal and Federal Fifth Circuit)
    1. Docketing statement
    2. Deadlines and timelines for appeal
    3. Appellate jurisdiction
    4. Requisites of the brief
    5. Motions
    6. Abatements and remands
    7. Anders briefs
    8. Non-record material and references
    9. Citation of authority; reasons for publication
    10. Standards of review
    11. Sufficiency of the evidence
    12. Opinions and mandates
    13. Motions for rehearing and reconsideration en banc
    14. Fundamental error / Structural error
    15. Harmless error
    16. Jury charges
  3. Discretionary Review (CCA and Supreme Court of the United States)
    1. a. Deadlines and timelines
    2. b. Requisites of the petition
    3. c. Reasons for review
    4. d. Preservation issues in the CCA
    5. e. Degrate petitions
    6. f. Federal questions and petitions for certiorari
    7. g. Non-compliant petitions
    8. h. Motions
    9. i. Petition for discretionary review vs. brief on the merits
    10. j. Direct appeals in death penalty cases
    11. k. Petitions for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court
  4. Writs of Habeas Corpus and Other Extraordinary Writs
    1. Pre-trial writs of habeas corpus
    2. Writs of mandamus and prohibition
      1. When appropriate
      2. Cognizable issues
      3. Subsequent Applications
      4. Record
      5. Filing
    3.  Misdemeanor post-conviction writs
    4. 11.072 writs--community supervision
    5. 11.07 post-conviction writs
      1. Application form
      2. Cognizable issues
      3. Subsequent Applications
      4. Subsequent writs
      5. Deadlines and laches
      6. Pleading requirements
      7. Effect of State’s failure to respond; convicting court’s failure to act
      8. Findings of fact and conclusions of law
    6. 11.071 post-conviction death penalty writs
    7. Federal writs under 28 U.S.C. §2254
      1. Exhaustion
      2. AEDPA
      3. Timelines and deadlines
      4. Application form
      5. Procedural bars and equity issues
    8.  Federal writs under 28 U.S.C. §2255
      1. Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
  5. Miscellaneous
    1. Oral Argument
    2. Juvenile appeals
    3. Appeals from municipal and justice of the peace judgments
    4. Right to an attorney/self-representation
    5. Attorney obligations to inform the client
    6. State’s right to appeal–Art. 44.01
    7. Retroactivity of appellate decisions
    8. Bail on appeal
    9. Extradition appeals
    10. Chapter 64 appeals
    11. Expunctions
    12. Non-disclosures
    13. Competency to be executed
  6. The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Profession. The ethics questions regarding this topic will involve an array of hypothetical fact situations which will cover several different aspects of ethical issues that arise in the practice of law. The questions will not be limited to the practice of any one specialty area, and consequently, an applicant is advised to be familiar with all provisions of the TDRPC.

Additional Resources

Find Criminal Appellate Law Attorneys in Texas - Visit Lawyer Legion, an online attorney directory, to find lawyers focused on criminal appeals and post-conviction motions in Texas. Our directory puts a special emphasis on attorneys certified as a specialist in criminal appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS).


This article was last updated on Monday, December 16, 2019.