The process of filing and defending a federal criminal appeal is challenging by design. This is not a procedure that most people are truly familiar with, and many criminal defense lawyers are not well-versed in federal criminal appeals unless they handle them regularly. It is an entirely separate process from the original trial and is not handled in the same court. This is why it is helpful to have a basic understanding of what to expect during a federal criminal appeal and consult with a trusted federal criminal appellate attorney to help strategize about your options.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the federal criminal appeals process is that it is essentially a retrial of the case that was tried at the district court level. To the contrary, federal criminal appeals focus on specific aspects of the original trial court case when there are errors that the defendant hopes to take up with the circuit court. The majority of the federal criminal appeals process occurs by filing briefs with the court. There are not many instances where the defendant is physically present in the courtroom for a hearing during the federal criminal appeals process. The appellate court almost never gets to hear new evidence that was not first introduced at the trial court level.
In addition, many defendants do not realize just how technical the federal criminal appeals process really is. Successful federal criminal appeals are likely won on procedural issues rather than arguments about the facts of the case. For example, if the trial court judge did not apply the proper analysis in deciding whether to exclude a piece of evidence, the defense attorney would research case law to argue about this procedural aspect of the trial and how it could have affected the ultimate outcome of the case. This requires a careful reading of the transcript from the district court trial by a knowledgeable federal criminal appeals lawyer so that no stone is left unturned in finding the types of important legal errors at trial that could give you an opening for a successful appeal.
One of the reasons why it is so helpful to consult with an experienced federal criminal appeals attorney early in your appeal is that they can help you decide whether the relief you might get from a successful appeal is worth it for you. In some cases, you may only be able to get a new trial by winning your appeal. This may not be the best outcome for you. There are other forms of post-conviction relief that may be available in your case and may offer a more helpful resolution to you. A seasoned federal criminal appeals lawyer can talk to you about ways to have your sentence modified or reduced so that you can move on from this experience and start rebuilding your life. Given that federal criminal appeals can be very time-consuming and move at a slow pace, you may want to think about other forms of post-conviction relief that would help you resolve your criminal matter faster. The deadlines for the federal criminal appeals process are set in stone, and there is no leeway for missing them. The sooner you discuss your case with a federal criminal appeals attorney, the more likely you are to keep on track with the deadlines so that your appeal is not dismissed by the court.
In sum, the federal criminal appeals process is often confusing and nuanced. Without the proper guidance of a trusted federal criminal appeals attorney, you are likely to make mistakes throughout the process because it takes significant time to learn the system. The majority of the work in pursuing federal criminal appeals is focused on legal research and writing, which is where a federal criminal appeals attorney could be extremely valuable to you. There is not room for error in this process if you want to prevail on appeal.