Being convicted with a federal crime is cause for concern. The federal justice system doesn’t bat an eyelash over handing out large sentences because they substantially deal with serious cases. An appeal is often the last hope for many to reclaim their lives and avoid a serious bout of sensory deprivation and socio-economic deficits.
Understanding Federal Criminal Appeals
The Two Main Types of Appellate Processes
If you have been convicted of a federal crime, it doesn’t mean that you are guilty. A lot of laws are extremely vague. And your trial counsel may have lacked experience with the particular facet of law despite their reassurances. It is not uncommon for defendants to find out later that there were defenses unexplored or additional pieces of evidence that could have acquitted them. In other cases, the trial attorney noted tactics by the prosecution that were unfair but was overruled by a biased judge. If this is the case, you may be eligible for a direct appeal on your criminal conviction.
Direct Appeal Vs. Collateral Appeal (Post-Conviction)
In the Federal Courts, a direct appeal is your chance to bring up errors that were preserved on the record below. The viability of your direct appeal critically hangs upon what issues your trial lawyer preserved in the record.
If they had failed to object, failed to cite the correct standards of law, or had failed to submit key pieces of evidence, you may have to bring up those issues in a post-conviction process that has its own appellate process.
Therefore, you are actually entitled to two different appellate processes to address two different species of errors. One appeal is from the errors preserved by trial counsel. Another appeal is based on the ineffectiveness of trial counsel, the discovery of new evidence, changes in the law, and other collateral issues that go beyond the main event of what your trial attorney preserved as errors in proceedings.
An Immutable Record
One thing you must understand is that the record on appeal is virtually immutable. If the trial court below did not review the issue in detail and consider evidence on it, the appellate courts are ill-equipped to examine it in the first instance. This means that any errors that you did not bring up will be waived, absent some extraordinary conditions that would merit a remand back to the lower court for full consideration.
The Notice of Appeal
It is critical for parties to timely file a notice of appeal and serve it on opposing counsel. The notice of appeal may be due in as little as 10 days. If you don’t have time to secure appellate counsel, your trial counsel is obligated to file it for you or prepare a pro se form for you to file yourself as a safeguard of your rights. Because the notice of appeal is filed in the lower court, this should not be a problem.
The core event in an appeal is the filing of written briefs. The appellant (defendant) will file an opening brief that succinctly describes the legal errors preserved below in greater detail. Your appellate counsel cites additional case-law and arguments to persuade the appellate court panel of judges that the trial judge made a mistake in a ruling.
The strongest arguments will be firmly defined by the appellate circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. A lot of issues, however, have a lot of conflicting case-law that can turn either in favor of reversal or against it based on nuances and the ultimate discretion of judges. If the panel agrees, you win. If not, you have additional options that can be discussed with your appellate counsel.
Although most cases are decided solely on the briefs in the secure backrooms of the federal courthouse, some cases are decided with the addition of oral arguments to clarify matters. Consult with an attorney for more information.