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The federal criminal appeal procedures are not something most people are familiar with if they have not studied law or been through the process themselves. Federal criminal lawyers are your best resource for tackling this process effectively. It is very challenging to get a criminal conviction reversed, so you have to prepare to take each part of the process seriously.
In a district court criminal case, there is either a bench or jury trial that determines whether the defendant is guilty or not. Both sides put on evidence to make their case, including live testimony from witnesses, reports from experts and any physical evidence from the alleged crime. The appeal process involves the analysis of legal briefs about any of the major legal errors that prejudiced the defendant during the trial. Lawyers present their technical arguments through legal briefs that are submitted pursuant to a schedule set by the clerk of the federal circuit court for the case.
In order for an issued to be able to be considered by the appellate court, it must have been raised by the defense at trial. This is usually done by the defense attorney entering an objection in the record. Even if a defense attorney thinks he has no chance of the district court judge siding with him, it is important to preserve as many issues as possible at the district court trial for appeal.
Depending on what issue is preserved and raised on appeal, there are different standards by which the appellate court decides whether the trial court was wrong or not. For some issues, the appellate court analyzes whether the judge abused his discretion. Other issues will be decided on based on the appellate court’s separate review of the law.
Even if the appellate court decides that a legal error was committed and was eligible to be raised on appeal, it must have still resulted in prejudice to the defendant. This means that harmless errors during the criminal trial likely will not result in a conviction being reversed.
While it is rare that a federal criminal appeal will result in a conviction being reversed, this is a possible outcome. A federal appellate court can remand a case for a new trial at the district court level if it determines a harmful error was committed. A defendant may not always want a new trial because it gives the government a new chance to retry the case and raise evidence it may not have been able to get admitted the first time around. On the other hand, a new trial may be a good option if the defense did not like how its strategy played out the first time. Keep in mind that the new trial can result in a conviction.
A defendant may move to have his sentence improved so that he serves less time in jail or prison or does not have to pay as much in fines. This motion is not an appeal and is filed in district court. You must wait until after the district court judge has handed down a sentence in your case to have it modified.
The above overview should leave you with an appreciation of how difficult making it through a federal criminal appeal can be, especially if you are not represented by a criminal lawyer. You should not make the error of trying to get through this life-changing process without the advice of an attorney you are confident will take your case seriously.