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When to Take a Criminal Appeal in Federal Court
The federal courts are set up to process convictions expeditiously and leave few opportunities for defendants to contest the charges. The trial is the main event that many are often persuaded to forgo for the benefit of a greatly reduced sentence. One of the key problems in the fairness of the judicial process is the competency of trial counsel. Few attorneys have the trial experience and expertise in a certain facet of law to make a case for their clients. And because fewer defendants are challenging their convictions, the case-law sits stagnant and does not develop any force or remedies when many errors do exist. This always makes it risky to go to trial with the law undefined and creates open hunting season for the prosecutors to nail anyone they desire.

In essence, our common law form of law carried over from England has been all but replaced with a type of commercial contract law. The U.S. Supreme Court has even agreed that plea bargains are essentially commercial contracts and are to be analyzed under the same standards when examining their validity. Therefore, in most cases, if you are charged with a federal crime, you will plead guilty like the 97 percent of defendants and effectively waive almost all defenses and appeals.

What Part of the Appellate Process Remains?

If you took an open plea that did not have any defined sentence but reduced the gravity of the charges or dropped certain charges, you may be able to retain direct appeals to challenge the discretion of the judge. If you presented a lot of mitigating factors and the judge still handed you the largest sentence possible, this would be solid grounds for a direct appeal.

If you did take your case to trial because it was fairly simple, or you have the money to hire a talented trial attorney, you have a lot of options. If your trial attorney had preserved issues by filing compelling pre-trial motions, reconsideration motions under Rules 59 or 60, or made objections during any proceedings, these errors could be raised again on appeal and reviewed by an impartial panel of judges.

Pro Se Bias

If you take the appeals yourself, be forewarned that the judges rarely even read documents filed by so-called pro selitigants who represent themselves. Because you are considered to be someone of low socio-economic status, especially if you file the appeal without paying fees through an informa pauperis method of indigency, they feel that they can overlook any injustices without consequence. Only the most diligent pro se litigants are able to create persuasive public records and obtain relief.

Nevertheless, the federal court rules of procedure are fashioned to be more forgiving towards pro se litigants. There are far more tools and opportunities for them to correct issues in their litigation or to file documents without all the formalities. For licensed attorneys, they must apply to practice in the Federal Appellate Courts and can be disbarred when they rock the boat or fail to act professionally. Most attorneys are afraid to jeopardize their status and may back down from aggressive battles with the federal attorneys’ office.

How Are Appeals Taken?

In order to appeal issues, you must timely file a notice of appeal document. This one-page document must be served on all parties and the U.S. District Court clerk in 10 days or whatever timeframe is prescribed by local rules.

The defendant (appellant) then files an opening principal brief booklet that develops the claims that they had presented to the U.S. District Court and preserved with objections or written pleadings. The federal attorneys’ office (appellee) will then file a response brief that seeks to vilify the defendant and the validity of their claims. The appellant then has an opportunity to short reply with a responsive brief.

The benefits of an appeal are usually reduced sentencing or a new trial. However, opening up proceedings with an appeal can give the trial judge discretion to increase the sentencing and can backfire in some exceptional cases.

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