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A federal criminal appeal is of paramount importance and should always be pursued with full force. Despite the statistics that show less than 6 percent of cases obtaining favor on appeal, this is often because clients cannot afford quality legal counsel. There are many lawyers out there who can identify an error that is clearly articulated in the case-law. When it comes to thinking outside the box and litigating novel issues, many lawyers are too busy racking up cases and counting the money to bother with the tedious research needed to win.
Finding a talented appellate attorney can mean the difference between heavy legal burdens and living a carefree life that is eternally cognizant of the close call. Because the evidence in a case and arguments can become very expansive and digressive, it is important to narrow down your issues and to focus on the strongest points in an appeal. While there may have been countless errors in the lower court, it is not practical to brief them all and ensure review on appeal. For this reason, an appellate attorney will usually choose a few errors to pursue on appeal that are your best shot at winning.
These key errors are more firmly established in the case-law or are pivotal to the determination of guilt or innocence. In a case where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, such as a murder case with a confession and DNA support, the degree of guilt may come into question and other nuanced arguments. Firing shots into a crowded area can be reckless if you were intentionally aiming for large clearings and no one was injured.
Firing shots into a crowded area with no discretion would be far more than reckless and intentional. If the judge would not allow a jury instruction that recognized this subtle deviation, it can mean the difference between life and simply spending some time in a federal prison. These are the kinds of refined arguments that are typically seen on direct appeal.
Most species of appellate issues are based on constitutional rights. These would be your right to call witnesses, the right to effective trial counsel, and the protections against search and seizure, the right to fundamentally fair proceedings, inter alia. While some of these issues can be raised on a direct appeal, most issues are often raised on a collateral appeal called a post-conviction process. The collateral appeal is a chance for an attorney to add additional evidence, testimony, and new issues to the record for a second chance at relief if a defendant’s trial counsel did not preserve key errors.
The collateral appeal first takes place in the trial court before the trial judge. It is then reduced to a final judgment, which can then be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for your circuit. It may then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as the final round of appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court rarely reviews cases that involve individuals but may grant a summary reversal if the error is serious enough and clearly defined in the law.
The U.S. Supreme Court opinions are usually quite vague and leave a lot of open room for interpretation by the appellate courts below. In fact, because they are so vague, the appellate courts, themselves, are split on many decisive issues.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court is granted authority to interpret the scope of constitutional protections, they make very few big watershed rulings that create brightline rules of fairness in criminal cases. And no matter how clearly they define the law, there are always complexities that courts use to limit the relief using judicial discretion in certain factual situations.
For this reason, your strongest arguments will be those that were thoroughly reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and consistently adopted by the appellate court below. Famous cases like Maryland v. Brady and Miranda are two prime examples of solid issues that may win on appeal. These cases involve prosecutors hiding evidence and coerced confessions. Speak with a qualified attorney to assess the value of your case.