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There isn’t much debate about the fact that federal criminal appeals can be a slow process. Rarely, if ever, will the entire appeals process be completed expeditiously and with immediate results. While it’s slightly possible that you’ll receive an answer within months, it’s more likely to take a year or more. This can be a source of frustration for everyone involved, especially if they are unaware of the timeframe in advance.
If you’re wondering why the federal criminal appeals process takes so long, you’re not alone. While the answer is not cut and dry, there are good reasons why it’s not possible to receive a response right away. For starters, the federal courts have a lot going on and are often crowded. This is exacerbated by the fact that the appeals process by nature is slow due to the requirements involved.
There are many notices of appeal filed in the courts and each case must be examined to assess the legal claims made. This alone is a process that can take a significant amount of time. Advances in technology has sped up the process to some degree by providing electronic access to important information. One of the ways in which technology accelerates the appeals process is by enabling legal research to be conducted by computer as opposed to requiring a visit to the law library.
There are still elements of the appellate process that simply require time and cannot be accelerated. For instance, some components involve an extensive amount of effort on behalf of federal appellate judges. They have to read information about the case, conduct research and weight the arguments. These are not functions that can be rushed because doing so could result in error.
While their responsibilities are quite extensive, federal appellate judges receive help from clerks and assistants. Sometimes they obtain support from attorneys, especially when the cases are routine. Regardless of the number of support staff involved in the process, it doesn’t negate the fact that the federal criminal appeals process must be handled carefully and in accordance with the law. It also doesn’t change the sheer volume of cases that run through the appellate court.
If you are concerned about how long it’s taking to get an answer about an appeal that you’ve submitted, keep in mind that your appeal is just one of hundreds. The best thing to do is simply recognize that waiting is part of the process and there’s nothing you can do about it. With that said, it can help to set the expectation in advance. In other words, attorneys should inform their clients of the slow process in the beginning.
To some degree, it’s beneficial to speak with clients about the appellate process as it relates to jurisprudence and the importance of allowing time for research so that a case can be carefully considered in light of the law. Precedence is a critically important aspect of the American legal system, which is why the research component of federal criminal appeals is so important. In fact, research can be one of the most important aspects of an appeal. Any amount of time necessary to conduct the research needed should be taken.
While the specific amount of time that a case will take can only be estimated, there are statistics provided by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts concerning the caseload of federal courts. Even the data provided by this source cannot provide an estimated timeframe with any level of precision. The timeframe from one court to another varies significantly. However, there is data indicating that a full year is often the amount of time it takes to get a response regarding an appeal in the federal system. It’s worth noting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has the fastest turnaround time and the Ninth Circuit has the longest.