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If you or a loved one have been charged with a federal crime, it is understandable that you may feel confused and overwhelmed by starting the federal criminal appeals process. This does not begin until after a defendant has been convicted of a crime in federal district court. If the defendant decides to appeal, a notice of appeal is filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the district in which the original case was heard. For example, if the trial was held in the District of Maryland, the notice of appeal would be filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Once the notice of appeal is timely filed, the defense attorney begins briefing the reasons why the defendant has appealed to the circuit court. As you will see below, this is an intensive undertaking that requires serious research and attention to all of the details of the trial court proceeding. This is one of the many reasons why federal criminal defendants are discouraged from trying to handle federal criminal appeals without the assistance of an attorney who consistently handles these types of cases.
The defendant has exactly 14 days after the entry of final judgment against him in a federal district court criminal case to file a notice of appeal. The notice is filed in the appropriate circuit court. The appellate court then enters a schedule by which the defendant’s attorney and the prosecution must file briefs on the issues for appeal. The briefs are based on the arguments made at trial and the evidence on the record. They are almost never based on evidence that was not examined at the district court trial.
Once the briefs are submitted, a panel of judges, usually three, will decide the case. There may be oral argument scheduled, but many appeals are decided without it. Oral argument is typically helpful to the defense because it is a second chance to make your position clear. The possible outcomes of the appeal are that the judgment of the district court may be affirmed, which means it stays in place. If the appellate court reverses the district court’s ruling, then the case is either sent back for a new trial or the conviction is overturned. A reversal is very rare in a federal criminal appeal and requires significant skill on the part of the attorney to secure.
Many defendants who do not have a legitimate federal criminal appeal to file or want a faster resolution consider other forms of post-conviction relief. This includes having a prison sentence shortened, the amount of a fine reduced or other modifications to a sentence that makes it faster and more convenient for a defendant to move on with his life. These are valid options to discuss with your attorney, especially if you do not want to go through the federal criminal trial all over again after winning an appeal. Before you waive any of your appeal rights, you should make sure that you have discussed all of the options available to you with a competent federal criminal appeal lawyer.
In conclusion, going through a federal criminal appeal can be exhausting and expensive for a federal criminal defendant because of the complexity of the process. While court appearances are rare during a federal criminal appeal, there is plenty of work going on behind the scenes in terms of research, writing and strategizing. The amount of time that it takes to mount a worthwhile federal criminal appeal means that you should speak with a federal criminal appeal lawyer sooner rather than later in getting the process started. Appellate courts are not forgiving of defendants who miss deadlines, and that could be your last chance to fight for your freedom.