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The entire process of handling a criminal case from beginning to end is different for every case and has many nuances. However, a federal criminal appeal can be even more difficult to understand and manage than the initial trial phase because it is based on procedural rules and law that are challenging even for lawyers. It is simply not a good idea to try to mount a viable federal criminal appeal on your own without years of legal experience and a clear understanding of federal criminal law. This overview will give you an idea of the steps involved in a federal criminal appeal and help direct you to working with a federal criminal appeal attorney who can serve your best interests.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that filing a federal criminal appeal is like getting a second bite at the apple of a criminal trial. It is vital that all of the best evidence supporting a defendant’s case is presented at trial because an appellate court is not likely to allow in any new evidence, especially if the defense was aware of it at the trial stage. A good defense attorney is looking for openings from the record, evidence and transcript of the district court trial to show that the judge made a clear mistake at the trial that warrants the conviction being reversed.
During a federal criminal appeal, the panel of judges from the circuit court read the briefs filed by both sides to determine whether a serious error occurred in the trial process. The lawyers on both sides spent a lot of time briefing the judges on the relevant case law that they think supports their positions. Witnesses and experts do not take part in these proceedings. Most of the work in a federal criminal appeal takes place in offices and in the judges’ chambers as opposed to open court. It can be frustrating for a defendant to not know exactly when the judges will rule on an issue.
There are various considerations that the appellate judges make when deciding an issue on appeal. First, they will decide what the standard of review is for an issue. That is, whether the judges look at the issue for the first time or only analyze it for whether the trial court judge abused his discretion. Then, the appellate judges will make sure that the defense lawyer preserved the issue for appeal by objecting to the judge’s decision at trial. Lastly, the appellate judges will determine whether the error was relatively harmless to the outcome of the case or if it caused actual harm to the defendant.
A successful appeal does not necessarily mean that the case is over for the defendant. You can lose the federal criminal appeal and have the district court’s ruling affirmed. Alternatively, the appellate court can have the ruling reversed with instructions for a new trial or the charges dismissed altogether. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the appeal, you can ask the appellate court to rehear the case by filing a motion or file a petition for a writ of certiorari for the United States Supreme Court to hear your case. This is a long shot because writs of cert are very rare.
The most important takeaway from this guide on federal criminal appeals is that a quality criminal appeal attorney can help make this overwhelming process much more accessible and bearable for you and your family. Do not take the chance of missing a deadline or misunderstanding a legal concept because you did not secure competent legal representation for your federal criminal appeal.