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Generally speaking, most of the steps involved in a federal criminal appeals case do not involve contact with the court in person. This is because the process primarily consists of filing briefs, waiting anywhere from months to about a year for a decision, and then reviewing the decision that’s received in writing either by U.S. mail or email.
Despite the relative ease of a streamlined appeals process, not being able to present an oral argument for a federal criminal appeals case will not always yield the best possible outcome. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to win an appeal without an oral argument, but many appellate lawyers will tell you that presenting an oral argument will improve your chances of having a conviction overturned. Why? Because it’s common for judges to have questions about the facts of the case, which can be presented more effectively during an oral argument.
Federal criminal cases are usually decided by more than one judge because there’s typically a panel of judges. They will often have questions about the facts of the case, as well as questions about the law as it relates to the case. An oral argument provides another opportunity to present this information, which can absolutely change the results of the appeal. Simply put, it gives you a chance to help the judges understand your position and why it’s correct. There is definitely a better chance of having a conviction overturned when you’re able to present an oral argument.
Although the federal criminal appeals process does not automatically include an oral argument, it’s possible to persuade the court to allow it. The best way to achieve this goal is by writing a brief that demonstrates the fact that there are legal issues that must be addressed. The ability to write a compelling brief is a skill that has been developed by many appellate lawyers out of necessity. If you’re able to do so effectively, it will give you a chance to leverage other important skills during the oral argument.
In the event that an oral argument is granted, it is critically important to perform any necessary research that might be required to present your argument effectively. It’s a known fact that the most successful appellate lawyers are able to earn the respect of the court because they have become adept at presenting their arguments in a way that is credible, thorough and professional. While being a good oral advocate is very important, it’s also important to bring many other skills to the table.
If you have never presented an oral argument in front of an appellate court, one of the things that you’ll notice is that federal courts are even more formal than district courts. There is a much higher level of formality required during every interaction. It’s something that’s evident from the moment you arrive to the courthouse. The chosen location of the courthouse is often an historic building and the etiquette used by all parties involved is typically more formal than in district courts.
Another way in which appellate courts are different is that the entire oral argument session is more rigid. For instance, there are strict instructions given regarding what is acceptable and there is a clear sense that failure to adhere to the guidelines even slightly will not be tolerated. Needless to say, it is important to be prepared before presenting an oral argument during a federal criminal appeals case in an appellate court. While nobody is perfect, there certainly isn’t much room for error or being unprepared at this level.
Oftentimes an oral argument will not consist of a presentation. Instead, there’s a good chance that it will involve responding to questions asked by the judges on the panel. This is all the more reason why counsel must be fully prepared. There should be no hesitation or failure in your ability to clearly and succinctly respond to any questions in support of your argument.