Filing and pursuing a federal criminal appeal is an intense and complicated process that requires legal experience, resources, time and money. Although it is affected by the initial criminal trial, the federal criminal appeal process can take on a life of its own because it a different dynamic than how the case began in district court. Instead of having a single judge or jury determine the outcome of a criminal case, the federal criminal appeal involves a panel of appellate judges who pour over the relevant parts of the transcript from the district court trial and the case law on advanced legal issues. If a defendant has a viable appeal, it is because there was a legal error in the trial below that had a negative effect on his ultimate conviction.
What Happens Before a Federal Criminal Appeal is Started
The first instinct of a defendant who has just been convicted of a federal crime might be to file an appeal right away. This might not always be in his best interest. The defendant may have also waived his right to appeal if he accepted a plea deal. Before filing an appeal, a defendant needs to speak with an attorney who represents defendants in similar situations with frequency. There may be other ways to improve the ultimate outcome of the case, such as filing a motion for the sentencing judge to reduce his prison sentence or allow him to avoid prison altogether. Giving up your right to appeal is a big decision that should not be taken lightly. Defendants are wise to discuss all possibilities with a criminal lawyer before deciding something that cannot be undone.
Making it Through a Federal Criminal Appeal
The very first filing to secure your right to a federal criminal appeal is filing the notice of appeal in the right circuit court within the deadline. Missing this first deadline could mean that your federal criminal appeal is dead on arrival. This is typically done electronically. The clerk of the appellate court will post a schedule for all of the filings in your case that the lawyers must strictly adhere to.
The first brief that the defense attorney files will set forth all of the legal errors that occurred during the trial and/or jury selection process. The prosecution will get a chance to respond in a separate response brief. The parties may also file separate motions throughout the process. It is important to not miss any of the scheduled deadlines.
Most defense attorneys will ask the panel of judges to allow oral argument. This gives the defense lawyer a chance to reinforce his arguments in front of the appellate judges and answer any questions they may have. It is not always granted and is never a chance for the defense attorney to try to retry the case in a different court.
The judges will decide if the conviction stands or if it will be reversed. If the conviction is overturned, the defendant may get the chance to start the trial all over again from the beginning and present the same or different evidence. You need to decide if having a new trial would be in your best interest or not, especially now that you know all of the government’s evidence against you. The government may get the chance to correct blunders it made the first time around, which could be harmful to you.
Seeking Other Relief
You are not limited to only filing an appeal if you want to make the outcome of your case better. You may be able to get your prison sentence lifted or reduced by a motion that your lawyer could file in district court. There are considerations that can be taken into account at sentencing to help you regain your freedom faster.