If you have lost your criminal trial or preserved some other reviewable errors, you have two appellate processes to set things straight, direct appeals and post-conviction collateral appeals. Because laws are so arbitrary and can turn on key pieces of evidence or facts, your federal appeals can be mean the difference between living a fruitful and successful life or being plagued with lots of legal burdens and deficits from a stint in the federal prison system.
Although there is always light at the end of the tunnel, if you use your time in prison wisely and excel after your release, you should, nevertheless, put every drop of effort into ensuring your success in the criminal appeals process.
What is a Federal Criminal Appeal?
When you take an appeal of your federal criminal conviction, you don’t have the same level of safeguards as state prisoners. State prisoners have the benefit of state supreme courts that are more capable of handling review of individual cases. Our U.S. Supreme Court has proven that it will primarily act in cases where multiple amicus briefs are filed that show a broader national interest on an important legal question. Therefore, the U.S. Courts of Appeals are in a very critical position to decide your ultimate fate and should not be taken lightly.
The Notice of Appeal
The appellate process begins with the filing in the trial court of a document known as a notice of appeal. The notice of appeal is a brief one-page statement that describes the order being appealed from, the parties, and the date of entry. This document may be due in just 10 days after the final judgment order is entered in a case. For this reason, you may be forced to ask your current trial counsel to file it in a pinch while you search for proper counsel.
They are obligated to assist you, in any respect, and will be held accountable if you can prove later that they failed to act on your request as you sought to retain appellate counsel. Nevertheless, you should not risk or delay the process by allowing an attorney to default if you have any manner possible of filing it, even by yourself.
An appeal is nothing like a trial. The attorneys who win appeals are those with superior writing skills. Excessive verbiage and the failure to clearly emphasize a solid point can lead to confusion and a loss on appeal even if your case for reversal or remand is strong. The brief must outline the errors with great formality to make it possible for the appellate court to review the issues without expending excess time.
The briefs that are direct and to the point have a certain manner of simplifying complex mixed questions of fact and law. Finding an attorney who is an excellent brief writer is the secret to winning on appeal. The defendant (appellant) files an opening principal brief, which is then countered by the government as to why relief should not be granted.
In addition to the written briefs, attorneys may apply for oral argument. Oral arguments are strictly formatted court sessions where your appellate counsel gets to clarify their issues before a panel of judges. If an attorney is granted the right to present oral argument, this is often because the case is complex or in some gray area of law and, therefore, requires further clarification for a fair disposition.
In most cases, the maximum relief that you will obtain, even if you win, is a new trial or resentencing. There are rare circumstances where an appellate court may find that a defendant is innocent as a matter of law and that no further proceedings are necessary.