The primary purpose of a federal criminal appeal is to address a complaint that an error or errors occurred during a trial at a district court. A federal criminal appeal enables an appellate court to address those mistakes. This does not mean the facts of the case are retried. Nor does it mean that new evidence is presented. In fact, all of the information provided during the first trial will remain the same and no additional details concerning the facts of the case will be presented.
In most instances, a federal criminal appeal is not something that happens in person. In fact, it’s possible for the entire process to occur in writing, with the exception of oral arguments. It’s important to understand that oral arguments are not an automatic part of the process. It’s an element of an appeal that has to be requested and granted. However, there’s a chance that a counsel’s request for an oral argument will be denied.
The role of counsel on both sides in a federal criminal appeal is to file briefs that both raise and respond to the issue of legal errors occurring in the district court. It’s actually an appeal concerning mistakes made by the district court and not mistakes made by counsel, per se. Since the appellate court is examining the procedures that were followed, there is simply no need to have a witness stand, court reporters or juries. The distinction is that appellate courts are not courts of record like district courts.
In order for an appellate court to have the information needed to resolve legal arguments, it’s necessary for them to receive any items and documents that were presented during the trial. These details are given to the appellate court for review by a panel of appellate judges. There is no new information presented, only what was available at the district court during the trial. In other words, appellate judges will only see what is already on record.
There are often instances when a client wants to file an appeal because they want to present additional information, not realizing that the appeals process is not for that purpose. It often becomes difficult for them to understand how that can be possible. To ensure clarity, it’s helpful when counsel has a clear understanding and grasp of the appellate process. They should be able to explain how appeals work in order to establish realistic expectations and eliminate any confusion.
As you can probably imagine, most clients envision having an appeal granted and ultimately an acquittal. Generally speaking, this will only happen if there was a legal problem based on the actions of the district court. There’s a slight chance that the conviction will be vacated at the appellate level and then charges dismissed. However, this is a rare occurrence and plays out on TV far more often than in real life. Quite frankly, it’s why there is such an inaccurate understanding of how federal criminal appeals work.
In the event that the decision is made to move forward with an appeal, there are timeframes and rules that must be followed without fail. A notice of appeal is a document that must be filed within a specific amount of time, which is usually ten days. Client’s should not assume their trial attorney will handle the appeal. Unless a lawyer has been retained to do so, they will not likely file an appeal. The reason is because there is a heavy workload tied to appeals and the process must be initiated as soon as the notice of appeal is submitted.