The federal criminal appeals process is something that surprises a lot of people because it’s not quite what they imagined. There are assumptions made by clients and even attorneys about federal criminal appeals that simply are not true. What happens in appellate courts is much different than what happens in district courts, to the dismay of many. There’s often an assumption that at some point, new facts will be presented to an appellate judge. Not only is that a misconception, it happens to be one of many.
Trials can involve juries, witnesses, court reporters, testimony, and the presentation of many facts surrounding the case. This all exists because district courts are considered courts of record. None of these elements are included in an appellate court. Why? Because the federal criminal appeals process is not focused on the facts of the case and they do not receive new evidence. Instead, an appellate court focuses on legal processes and how they are carried out by district courts. In a federal criminal appeal, the judgment made by the district court is challenged on a legal ground. Sometimes it’s challenged on several legal grounds.
When counsel is retained to file an appeal, briefs are submitted in writing on both sides. This is for the purpose of raising issues about what happened in the district court and responding to what has been alleged. Generally speaking, this all happens in writing, instead of during a court appearance. When briefs are submitted for review by appellate courts, sometimes attorneys are surprised by the formal nature of the process because it’s often more stringent than district courts.
A key element of the process is the notice of appeal, which is a brief document that serves the purpose of informing the appellate court and the district court that there is an appeal on the way. The standard and expectation is that the notice of appeal will be submitted within ten days of the district court entering its judgment. Since counsel in the case isn’t automatically counsel for the appeal, a lawyer will need to be retained quickly in order to meet the deadline for filing an appeal. This is no small matter because managing an appeal requires a lot of effort and the workload is substantial.
If you want to file an appeal, it’s imperative that you make a decision quickly. You’ll want to consult with a federal criminal appellate attorney that has a sufficient amount of experience and understands the process. It’s worth noting that there’s an ethical obligation for the lawyer that represented you during the trial to make sure your right to file an appeal is preserved. This certainly doesn’t mean they will represent you during the appeal, but it’s possible that they will file the notice of appeal on your behalf. There’s also what’s called a pro se notice, which is for the purpose of notifying the court that you will file an appeal yourself.
When it comes to the federal criminal appeals process, it’s important to know that the process can take a long time, sometimes more than a year. There’s a lot involved in an appellate appeal, including a review of the case by appellate judges. They are required to examine an extensive amount of information for hundreds of cases. Simply put, there are a lot of cases that run through federal courts, which often causes delays in the process. Some districts take longer than others. For instance, Fourth Circuit courts are known to have a fast turnaround time. However, fast is relative since the average timeframe for receiving a decision is about a year. The courts with the longest turnaround time are in the Ninth Circuit.
Anyone can obtain information regarding the estimated timeframe for an appeal by searching online for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. While there is no way to get precise information about how long the process will take, you can at least get an estimate.