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27 Nov 23

Understanding the Federal Appeals Process After Conviction

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 12:38 pm

Understanding the Federal Appeals Process After Conviction

So you or your loved one was just convicted of a federal crime and sentenced to prison or probation. That sucks! Going through the criminal justice system is super stressful and scary. But don’t lose hope! There are still options, like filing an appeal.

What is an Appeal?

An appeal is when you ask a higher court to review the decision of the court that convicted and sentenced you. The higher court will look at the procedures, the law, and the facts of your case to decide if the lower court made any mistakes that affected the outcome. If the higher court finds serious errors that violated your rights or the law, they can do things like:

  • Reverse your conviction entirely
  • Order a new trial
  • Reduce your sentence

An appeal isn’t a new trial or re-doing the whole case. You don’t get to present new evidence or testimony. The appeals court just looks at the record of your original case and the arguments your lawyer makes in legal briefs.

How Does the Appeals Process Work?

Here are the basic steps in filing a federal criminal appeal:

  1. Notice of Appeal – This is a simple document your lawyer files to kick off the appeals process. It has to be filed within 14 days after the judgment in your case.
  2. Record of Trial – The court reporters put together transcripts of everything said during the trial and sentencing. They also compile all the motions and court orders.
  3. Appellant Brief – This is the main document where your lawyer lays out the legal arguments for why your conviction or sentence was wrong.
  4. Appellee Brief – The prosecutor responds to your arguments in their own brief.
  5. Oral Arguments – In some cases, your lawyer and the prosecutor will appear before a panel of appeals judges to argue the case.
  6. Opinion – The appeals judges issue a written decision explaining if they found errors and if your appeal succeeded or failed.

This process can take anywhere from a year to three years depending on the complexity of your case. It requires patience, but could potentially get your conviction overturned or sentence reduced if you have a good appeal issue.

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What Are Good Grounds for an Appeal?

The most common reasons convictions get overturned on appeal include:

  • Unlawful search and seizure – If the police violated your 4th Amendment rights, like by searching you or your property without probable cause.
  • Withholding evidence – If the prosecution failed to share potentially exculpatory evidence with your lawyer.
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel – If your trial lawyer made serious mistakes or didn’t properly investigate or prepare your defense.
  • Improper jury instructions – If the judge gave the jury incorrect instructions on the law before deliberations.
  • Prosecutorial misconduct – If the prosecutor behaved improperly, like making inflammatory statements to the jury.

For sentencing appeals, common issues include the judge making an error in calculating your guideline range or failing to properly consider the sentencing factors laid out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

How Do I Get a Lawyer for My Appeal?

In most cases, you have the right to have a lawyer appointed if you can’t afford one. You can ask the court to appoint the same lawyer who handled your trial or a new attorney just for your appeal. Appellate lawyers specialize in identifying appealable issues and crafting persuasive arguments in briefs and oral arguments.

If you have the means, you may want to hire an appellate specialist. This can give you more control over who represents you. Just make sure you vet them thoroughly, review past appeals they’ve handled, and understand their experience with federal criminal cases.

What If My Appeal is Denied?

If the appeals court rejects all your arguments and affirms your conviction and sentence, you still have one more option – asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review your case. This is called filing a petition for writ of certiorari. However, the Supreme Court only agrees to hear about 1% of the petitions it receives each year. The cases they accept usually involve major constitutional questions or conflicts between the circuit courts.

Don’t lose hope though! Even if your conviction stands after exhausting all appeals, you may still have options like petitioning for clemency or applying for compassionate release after serving some of your sentence. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can advise you on strategies.

The Appeals Process Has Strict Deadlines

It’s really important to pay attention to all the filing deadlines when pursuing an appeal. You only have 14 days after sentencing to file your notice of appeal. Other deadlines apply for submitting briefs. If you miss these deadlines, you could lose your right to appeal.

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Conclusion

I hope this overview helps you understand how federal criminal appeals work. The process involves patience and perseverance, but can potentially get your conviction overturned or sentence reduced. Consulting with an appellate lawyer as soon as possible after your conviction is crucial. They can review the record in your case and advise you on the strongest arguments to raise on appeal. Don’t give up hope – keep fighting! Best of luck with your appeal.

Sources

Appeals | United States Courts
How Courts Work – American Bar Association
U.S. Attorneys | Appeal | United States Department of Justice
Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure – Legal Information Institute – Cornell University
What Happens In A Federal Criminal Appeal? – Grabel & Associates