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For many of the same reasons why a skilled and experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is an asset in the trial phase of a criminal case, the appellate process can be much less intimidating with the assistance of a federal criminal appeals advocate fighting for you or your loved one. What makes this process especially foreign to criminal defendants is that the appellate judges make their decisions in chambers rather than in front of the court. They read and analyze the motions and briefs that the parties file to drill down on discrete legal issues to consider. This is very different from a trial where judges and juries listen to the oral testimony of witnesses to make decisions about the facts of the case.
In a trial, your defense attorney makes oral arguments to a jury and/or judge. In an appeal, a panel of judges reads the briefs filed by both sides and decides on the legal issues raised based on the research and arguments of the attorneys. The judges are not concerned with new evidence that the defense attorney may want them to consider. They are analyzing the record of the trial for instances of legal errors that entitle the defendant to a new trial or the reversal of his conviction, such as a judge refusing to admit evidence that would have been helpful to the defense, a judge allowing an expert to testify who was not qualified or the prosecution engaging in some sort of misconduct. Appellate attorneys spend a lot of time researching case law to argue their cases on appeal.
You may have the chance to give oral argument in an appeal, but the talking will be done by the defense attorney instead of the defendant taking the stand to testify like at trial. Witnesses will not appear at oral argument on appeal. Judges will ask specific questions about the facts and the law on appeal for the attorneys to answer in court. The judges will issue a decision in writing after all of the argument has concluded. It can take a long time to get word of a final decision.
If the final decision is not favorable, you can decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or seek to have your sentence modified in some other way. Appeals to the Supreme Court can be expensive and are not likely to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Unlike a federal criminal appeal, a motion to have a sentence modified or reduced is filed in district court. It is decided by a district court judge and can be based on a variety of factors. It allows you and your attorney the opportunity to demonstrate to the judge why you should not have to serve the full sentence that was handed down.
Simply put, the sooner you speak with a federal criminal appeals attorney you are comfortable with, the better chance you will have of not missing deadlines or otherwise damaging your chances of a potentially successful appeal. Many defendants choose to work with a different lawyer or firm than the one who handled the initial phase of the case because appeals take a special set of legal knowledge, skills and experience. Given that federal criminal appeals revolve around the details of the record at the trial court, you need to give your attorney enough time to become familiar with the facts of the case and the proceedings below. Do not delay in beginning your federal criminal appeal with the help of a trusted lawyer.