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Federal Appeals Lawyers

How to Make Your Federal Criminal Appeal More Successful

A federal criminal appeal is a delicate process. As the appellant, you are unlikely to get the opportunity to speak to any of the judges or court staff who review your case. Your legal counsel will be able to assist you with every step of your appeal.

1. Find the Right Attorney

An appeal is different from a normal criminal case. The appellate courts are not interested in the admission of new evidence, and the appeal does not go to a recognizable trial. The lawyer who represented you for your initial district court case may not be the right choice for a federal criminal appeal.

Seek an attorney who has experience with federal criminal appeals. Your lawyer will need to review the court record for the case, find potential errors in the trial proceedings, and write a compelling argument as to why those errors impact the final judgment that you would like overturned. Success depends on your attorney’s ability to recognize the relevant issues that the appellate court will be interested in.

As a final note, some attorneys ask clerks or junior staff members to help them construct each brief. Find an attorney who will personally comb through the details of your case.

2. File Your Notice of Appeal On Time

You have 10 days to file your notice of appeal after the judgment is entered. This notice is not the same thing as the appeal brief. If you have not yet retained legal counsel for your appeal, ask the attorney who handled your district court case to help you file this notice. If the notice is not filed on time, you will lose your right to appeal the case.

3. Follow All Formatting Requirements

Appellate courts have strict requirements for the way each brief is formatted. Small details like the font or the color of the binding can result in a rejection of your appeal.

Federal appellate judges handle an overwhelming number of cases every day. Small formatting errors can actually be quite disruptive to their process. By correctly following the formatting requirements, you show respect for their work and their time.

4. Preserve Errors During the Initial Case

The proceedings of your district court case will determine the appellate court’s decision. Any errors that occur in the original trial must be noticed and responded to accordingly. If the district court is not given a chance to respond to an error, the appellate court will not consider it in their judgment.

Your legal counsel should be prepared to object to any errors while the original trial is in session. If something is stricken from the record, the lawyer should persist until an adverse ruling is made against the objection. This adverse ruling will be added to the court record, and the error will be preserved for later review.

Speak with your legal counsel to understand if preservation of error will impact your case.

5. Prepare a Sufficient Budget

Federal criminal appeals are lengthy and potentially expensive. An adequate budget will help your legal counsel successfully argue your case.

The appeal brief may be costly to compile. Your attorney needs time to review the small details of your case. The brief itself will need to include court transcripts and important evidence. For long trials, collecting and reviewing a complete transcript can be an expensive part of this process.

Should your legal counsel be granted the opportunity for an oral argument, they will need to travel to the site of the appellate court. Expect to pay for them to travel the day before and stay overnight; you want them to be well-rested so that they can argue your case in the morning.

Your attorney will help you determine the budget necessary for your appeal. A federal criminal appeal is an extremely impactful event; do not try to cut costs at any level of this process.

Ultimately, the success of your appeal relies on your legal counsel’s ability to find and highlight relevant information in your case. An eloquent and well-reasoned attorney who understands the requirements of the appellate court will be able to help you submit a successful federal criminal appeal.

How much does a federal appeal lawyer cost?

In the event you’re considering appealing a decision, this might be a very important step. You will need to find an appeals attorney, not a trial attorney. Usually the person who does your appeals is methodical, and spends a lot of time on the actual case law. Appeals are a request for a higher court to review a lower court’s decision. Appeals lawyers handle cases on appeal when a party loses or is unhappy. The appeal isn’t a trial and looks nothing like what you see on TV. As a result, when an appeal occurs the attorney who is handling it looks at how hard the case is going to be and how much paperwork there is. Typically the attorney will charge you for reviewing the files and paperwork associated with the case. They will charge you an hourly rate of $400-$500, or more.

How many times can you appeal a federal case?

Generally speaking, the judgement of a lower court can be appealed to the next court only once. The number of appeals depends on how many courts are superior to the court which made the decision. In states with large populations it’s common for there to be 2-4 levels of courts. In less populated states, there might only be two levels.

Can you appeal a federal conviction?

If you are convicted of a crime you can challenge it. If the judge or jury did something wrong, you can challenge it. IF your attorney handled the case incorrectly, then you can challenge it. The Constitution of the USA says you have a right to effective assistance of counsel in federal criminal cases, and if that right is infringed, then you have the right to overturn a conviction based on that.

What happens if you win a criminal appeal?

In most cases, if you win the appeal, your case will be remanded. This means the case will be sent back to trial court, or the judge responsible for your conviction / sentencing. If the case is remanded, then you might receive a new trial on the charges, be given a chance to negotiate a plea bargain, or be given a new sentencing hearing.

What percentage of cases are overturned on appeal?

According to the last examination by the Bureau of Justice, about 15% of civil trial decisions were appealed. About half by plaintiffs, and half by defendants.

What are the grounds for an appeal?

Grounds for an appeal must be based in law. The appeal allows a defendant to use the law to attack the judgement based on the fact that the law wasn’t correctly applied. It helps to remember that in a criminal trial, the prosecutor tries to convince the jury that a law was violated by the defendant. When you appeal a judgement on legal grounds it means there was an error in the judgement which resulted from the law not being applied properly.

Why you need an experienced federal appeals attorney?

It’s usually a bad idea to have your trial lawyer to represent you on an appeal. This is true for federal appellate practice. Lawyers handing a federal appeal for the first time will be surprised to learn about all the requirements he/she did not know existed. If a  attorney is unprepared for oral argument in federal court, or fails to anticipate questions the panel of judges will ask him, then this could be disastrous.

What’s federal civil appeals?

In federal court, most appeals travel in the same path:

  • Notice of appeal
  • Preparation of the record
  • Initial brief / Answer Brief / Reply Brief
  • Oral Argument
  • Decision

Federal appellate courts are designed to focus on one thing: the law! They are not a retrial or rehearing of the evidence. It is not a chance to re-open the facts developed at trial. Federal criminal appeals, are legal proceedings in which the judgement or order of the contract is attacked on legal grounds. Unlike district courts, appellate courts aren’t courts of records. There aren’t court reporters, witness stands, or juries. Appellate courts do not receive evidence or testimony.

Notice of appeal and appeal is very different. The notice of appeal, simply tells you the district court and appellate court of a parties intention to appeal. This is a simple document which notifies the district court and the appellate court of a party’s intention to appeal. It’s a smart idea not to wait until the last minute.

Federal Criminal Appeals Are Slow

The appeals process is slow. They take months, if not years. Federal courts are crowded, and the process of an appeal is slow. The courts, consider each and every claim – which takes time. The appeals process is slow. It requires individual judges to read and consider the arguments and evidence. Judges can only work so many hours, so it’s a time intensive process. Bottom line, people are handling your appeals and it takes time.

A conviction in a criminal case is just the first step in the criminal defense process. If you’re convicted, a person has the right to appeal the verdict in the Court of Appeals. There are three main ways to appeal a criminal conviction.

  1. Direct appeal in a Court of Appeals
  2. Write of habeas corpus in state court
  3. Writ of habeas corpus in federal court

Each appellate track has its own special procedures. Only certain issues should be raised under each respective court. When a person is convicted in state court they have 30 days to file a notice of appeal. This notice of appeal will grant jurisdiction to the Court of Appeals to then review the defendant’s case. The notice of appeals begins the appeal process. The direct appeal is a limited review appeal. The appellate court will only review issues which were raised at the trial court and which received an adverse ruling. If your trial counsel failed to raise an issue, and receive a ruling, then the defendant is barred from raising the issue on direct appeal. If the state introduces evidence that shouldn’t come before a jury, your trial attorneys have to object to the admission of the evidence – and give the trial court a chance to keep it out. If the trial court allows it in, over objection, then the issue can be reviewed in appeals. If your trial counsel didn’t object, the issue may not be objected to in appeals.

Challenging convictions through writ of habeas corpus

Once the direct appeal is finalized, you have one venue left to challenge your conviction in state court – a writ of habeas corpus. The write of habeaus corpus allows a attorney to fully investigate the case, including off-the-record evidence. Your attorney can use this new evidence to overturn a conviction. Typically in this process you can make claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, and claims of actual innocence.

IAC – ineffective assistance of counsel – is an allegation that the trial attorney’s performance was deficient, and this is what impacted the outcome of the trial. Minor mistakes aren’t sufficient for an IAC claim. Larger mistakes, like not investigating witnesses, not looking for mitigating evidence/facts, and failing to raise clear constitutional claims, can lead to an IAC claim.

Many innocence claims are publicized through crime documentaries. In order to raise an innocence claim, a writ lawyer has to investigate the case, find new evidence which couldn’t have been discovered prior to trial, and prove to a court the defendant is innocent of the crime. The defendant must prove innocence by convincing evidence.

Writs of habeas corpus require extensive work. Federal appeals lawyers must investigate the entire case, and have to talk to witnesses, review police reports, trial transcripts, evidence, etc. Many writ lawyers follow up on evidence not pursued by the trial attorney. Once the investigation is complete, a writ lawyer has to put together a persuasive pleading. The lawyer will conduct a hearing in trial court, and appeal rulings in the court of appeals.

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