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How to Pursue an Appeal of a Federal Criminal Conviction
Life in federal prison can be hard on the soul. Prisoners are transferred far from home and moved from state to state quite regularly. They lack all the comforts and amenities that they once cherished and are systematically bred to become dependent on the institution. They are told when to sleep, when to eat, when to read, and when to exercise. They can’t go to the bathroom without taking special precautions and following official and unofficial rules.

For this reason, many white-collar criminals who are facing serious charges hire the best defense attorneys. These law firms can do everything possible to protect them but may fail at the end of the day if the judge is biased and allows juror confusion. They may also fail if the client is just plain guilty.

Nevertheless, there are always ways for defendants to avail themselves of nearly any charge by hiring competent counsel. A case can be made for any type of charge or practice that it is fundamentally unfair. The case-law is so expansive that a case can be made for just about any type of argument, in favor or against relief. When you are dealing with a body of law that is convoluted and has essentially grown into a muss of gray mush, the odds are in your favor if you hire the right attorney.

The Federal Appellate Process

If you are like most people, you pled guilty and took the immediate benefits of a negotiated plea because you were unable to afford competent representation or thought it was too risky. A plea bargain generally waives your right to challenge your conviction but may allow for challenges to the sentencing and other constitutional questions of law if your attorney develops the claims.

Anything that is developed by your trial attorney can usually be pursued on appeal to the Circuit Appellate Courts in your region. You would be entitled to an appeal as of right on non-frivolous claims that were preserved by trial counsel. If you are successful, the outcome may result in a new trial, new sentencing, or other forms of relief. You can even have your conviction reversed and the entire case thrown out in some rare circumstances. Yet, even when parties obtain relief, the courts like to leave the door open without saying that they are per se innocent or without fault.

The appeal comes down to one critical document to make it timely, the notice of appeal. The notice of appeal may be required in as few as 10 days after the judgment is entered. This is the day that it is entered on the docket and not the day that you receive notice. For this reason, you want to alert your trial attorney ahead of time to file a direct appeal on your behalf even if you are seeking a specialist in appeals to do the briefing. The notice of appeal is a terse one-page document that simply recounts the entry of the judgment order, the parties, and notifies the court regarding the nature of the appeal. A briefing schedule and oral argument schedule will not be provided until after it is filed.

The briefing schedule may require the appellant (defendant) to file an opening principal brief within 45 days of initiating the appeal. The appellate process deadlines are fairly rapid and require you to take exemplary care to prepare for an appeal with appellate counsel ready to go. Although they could file for an extension of time to file the brief, this is not particularly favored.

The appellate briefing schedule will then, ordinarily, require the appellees (government) to file an opposing brief in 30 days after service of the appellant brief. They can raise new issues or rebut the issues raised in the appellant brief. The appellate courts are biased and desire to rule in favor of their fellow state officials unless your brief packs quite a punch. Don’t expect make-weight issues or debatable points to fly. Finally, you can file a reply brief to counter any arguments not already addressed in the appellees’ brief.

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