If you have already endured a federal criminal district court trial in your own case or for a loved one, then you have an idea of how intricate and frustrating the federal criminal process can be at times. This is especially true if you do not have a trusted federal criminal attorney to rely upon. The federal criminal appeal process is an extra layer of complexity once the district court trial is complete and a guilty finding is entered. This basic guide will provide a high-level explanation of some of the most important parts of the federal criminal appeal process as well as some of the considerations you should make in deciding the next steps to pursue in your case.
Which Courts Handle Federal Criminal Appeals?
Federal criminal trials are handled by the U.S. district courts in the appropriate venues. A federal criminal case is appealed to one of the 13 circuits of appellate courts that correspond to the district court where your case began. Instead of just one judge hearing your appeal, the appellate courts have small panels of judges that read all of the briefs and motions filed. There are no juries in federal criminal appeals.
What is a Notice of Appeal?
The notice of appeal is important because it is what starts the federal criminal appeals process. It must be filed in the right court within 14 days of the entry of final judgment against the defendant by the trial court. There are many instances of courts refusing to hear a defendant’s appeal because he did not file the notice of appeal by the hard deadline.
The notice of appeal is not a long brief about all of the reasons why your conviction should be reversed. It is a form filing that federal criminal appeals attorneys are familiar with. This is how the appellate court officially opens your case and sets a schedule that the parties must follow for submitting their written arguments.
What the Federal Criminal Appeals Involves
Rather than your defense attorney standing up and arguing your case in front of a jury, federal criminal appeals take the form of written filings called briefs. A defense attorney will argue that there was some important legal error in the trial below that merits having the conviction reversed. Sometimes this means that the defendant will be granted a new trial and will have to start the case again in front of a new jury unless the defendant chooses to have a bench trial only in front of a district court judge. If the conviction is overturned without a new trial, then the guilty plea is revered. This means that the defendant cannot be tried again for that crime and is free to go.
What Considerations to Make After Receiving a Conviction in a Federal Criminal Case
In addition to filing a federal criminal appeal, a defendant can ask to have his sentence reduced by the trial court judge. This is a motion for post-conviction relief and is filed in the district court where the case was originally decided. A skilled criminal defense attorney can be of great assistance in seeking to have the conditions or length of a prison sentence reduced if you cannot successfully appeal your conviction.
Retaining an Experienced Federal Criminal Appeals Lawyer
The key thing to keep in mind about federal criminal appeals is that they are based on technical aspects of criminal law and turn on seemingly minor details from the trial in district court. You need a helpful federal criminal appeals attorney who takes the time to scour the district court record as well as research applicable case law. Your federal criminal appeals attorney does not have to be the same attorney or firm who represented you at the trial phase of your case.