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If a defendant receives a guilty verdict in a criminal district court trial, the only official option for having the verdict overturned is filing a federal criminal appeal in the circuit court. It officially begins with a notice of appeal that informs the court that a case needs to be opened. All of the official records from the district court are sent up to the circuit court for the appeal. If a defendant wins a federal criminal appeal, this means that the guilty verdict has been overturned. However, the defendant may have to go through a new trial in the district court. This could end up with the defendant receiving another guilty verdict. This is why a federal criminal appeal is not always helpful to the defendant in the end.
If there was a major mistake during the criminal trial, it may have made it more likely that the defendant was convicted of the crime. Another reason a federal criminal appeal might be successful is that the prosecution did something illegal or unethical during the trial. Some federal criminal appeals are based on a fundamental violation of the defendant’s rights in some way before he was convicted of the crime.
During the federal criminal trial, the government has the burden of proof in showing that the defendant committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This is an incredibly high standard that the prosecution must meet in order to secure a conviction. Given that it is so difficult for the government to get a conviction at the district court trial stage, the circuit court defers to the guilty verdict in the district court and the actions of the district court judge while considering a federal criminal appeal. In the end, this makes it more difficult for the defendant to prevail on a federal criminal appeal.
If the guilty verdict from the district court is reversed, the defendant may have to go through the trial all over again. If the case is remanded to the district court for the immediate reversal of the guilty verdict, then the defendant gains his freedom. When a federal criminal appeal is not successful, the defendant can try to get the appellate court to consider the appeal again, but this is not a probable outcome. The next level of appeal is to the Supreme Court through a petition for a writ of certiorari.
A separate option is to ask the sentencing judge to reduce the prison term that the defendant must serve. This is done through a motion in the district court. It is typically decided much faster than a federal criminal appeal because the process is less involved.
It is extremely difficult to go through a federal criminal appeal without the aid of an attorney. You will encounter many confusing aspects of the federal criminal appeal process, including navigating the deadlines, briefing requirements, rules of federal appellate procedure, detailed legal research and the applicable legal standards. An experienced defense attorney who handles federal criminal appeals on a regular basis will have the resources and skills to analyze your case and help you determine the potential outcomes. Rather than waiting until you have filed the initial paperwork for a federal criminal appeal, you want to meet with a defense lawyer right away because there are details about the timing and required elements that you may not understand without the proper legal training. A trusted defense team is your best tool for securing your freedom.