29 Nov 23

Appealing Your Federal Sentence After Trial

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 11:46 am

Appealing Your Federal Sentence After Trial

If you were just convicted of a federal crime and given a prison sentence after a trial, you may be wondering if you can appeal your conviction or sentence. The short answer is yes, you can appeal a federal conviction or sentence to a higher court. Here’s an overview of the federal appeals process and some tips for making an effective appeal.

The Basics of Appealing a Federal Conviction

After a federal criminal trial, you have an automatic right to appeal your conviction, sentence, or both . The first place to appeal is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the circuit where your trial took place. For example, if your trial was in a U.S. District Court in the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana, or Mississippi), you would appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

You must file a notice of appeal within 14 days after the entry of the judgment against you . This deadline is strict, so don’t delay. After filing the notice, your trial lawyer will order transcripts of the trial proceedings and file them with the appeals court.

The appeals court will not retry your entire case or hear witnesses. It will only look at the record from the trial court and the legal issues raised in your appeal briefs. The appeals court will then decide if the trial court made any reversible legal errors that justify overturning or modifying your conviction or sentence.

Grounds for Appealing a Federal Conviction or Sentence

There are many potential grounds for appealing a federal conviction or sentence after trial. Common grounds include:

  • Incorrect jury instructions
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Improper admission or exclusion of evidence
  • Lack of sufficient evidence to support the conviction
  • Sentencing errors or abuses of discretion
  • Unconstitutional search or seizure
  • Miranda rights violations

Your lawyer will review the trial record and identify the strongest legal issues to raise on appeal. The issues must be preserved on the record with objections at trial. Issues not properly raised below are usually waived.

The Appeals Process and Timeline

The federal criminal appeals process generally follows this timeline:

  1. File notice of appeal within 14 days after entry of judgment
  2. Trial lawyer orders trial transcripts (may take several months)
  3. Appellant’s brief filed within 40 days after transcripts complete
  4. Appellee’s brief filed within 30 days after appellant’s brief
  5. Appellant’s reply brief optionally filed within 14 days after appellee’s brief
  6. Oral argument scheduled (or case submitted on briefs)
  7. Court issues written opinion deciding the appeal, usually within a few months
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The appeals court may take anywhere from several months to over a year to decide a federal criminal appeal after all briefing is complete. Some cases do not get oral argument and are decided on the briefs. If you lose in the appeals court, you can request rehearing or file a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tips for Making a Persuasive Appeal

Here are some tips to help make your federal appeal persuasive and get the best possible result:

  • Raise only your strongest, preserved arguments
  • Frame issues clearly and explain why errors justify reversal
  • Focus on errors that affected substantial rights or the trial fairness
  • Be concise – appeals courts appreciate brevity
  • Craft a compelling narrative and emphasize injustice
  • Use standard of review to your advantage
  • Be professional – no emotional outbursts or attacks
  • Research and cite persuasive, on-point precedents
  • Anticipate counterarguments and rebut them
  • Use skilled appellate counsel if possible

Following these tips will give you the best chance at getting your conviction overturned or sentence reduced on appeal. But appeals are an uphill battle, so stay realistic.

Specific Issues to Appeal

Some of the most common issues appealed after federal trials include:

Insufficient Evidence

If the prosecution did not present enough evidence at trial for a reasonable jury to convict, you can argue insufficient evidence on appeal . The court will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and ask whether any rational trier of fact could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unreasonable Sentence

Sentencing appeals argue the sentence was unreasonable or an abuse of discretion under the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) . This is a deferential standard, but reversals do happen for clearly excessive sentences.

Prosecutorial Misconduct

Prosecutors must play fair and not use improper methods to secure a conviction. Appeals based on misconduct like inflammatory comments or failing to disclose evidence are reviewed for harmlessness .

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

You can claim your lawyer provided ineffective assistance under the test in Strickland v. Washington . This requires showing your lawyer’s performance was deficient and prejudiced the defense.

Fourth Amendment Violations

Appeals frequently allege illegal searches or seizures that violated the Fourth Amendment . Suppression issues must be raised below to preserve them for appeal.

Alternatives Besides Appeal

Instead of a direct appeal, some other post-conviction options may be available, like:

  • Motion for New Trial – Asking the trial court for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence or other grounds.
  • Habeas Corpus Petition – Collateral challenge to conviction raising constitutional issues.
  • Sentence Reduction Motion – Asking the trial court to reduce your sentence under certain circumstances.
  • Executive Clemency – Requesting the President or Governor pardon you or commute your sentence.

Discuss these options with your lawyer to develop the optimal post-conviction strategy.

The Bottom Line

Appealing a federal conviction or sentence after trial is a complex process with strict deadlines. Work closely with an experienced federal criminal appeals lawyer to identify the best issues and give yourself the greatest chance at success. With strong legal arguments and persuasive writing, you may convince the appeals court to overturn your conviction, reduce your sentence, or order a new trial.