A federal criminal appeal is not for the purpose of allowing the appellate court to hear facts of the case that were presented to the district court. In actuality, that’s not something that’s even possible during an appeal. Yes, if the appeal is won and the district court’s decision is overturned, then there’s a good chance that a new case will be granted. This is when there would be an opportunity to present new facts. However, that’s only because you’re starting from scratch after probably waiting a year or more to get through the federal appeals process. Long before that happens, there’s a lot to consider before moving forward with an appeal.
In a perfect world where everything you hope for happens, upon filing a brief at an appellate court, the process would be completed expeditiously and the panel of judges would all agree that the district court made a legal error of some sort. Perhaps they would find issues with the case that were so egregious, that an acquittal is granted. The appellate court would then vacate the conviction and both counsel and the client is thrilled. This scenario might sound realistic to some, but anyone that has worked as an appellate lawyer knows that this example is nothing more than wishful thinking. Yes, it could happen, but it’s not likely.
Part of the process of filing a notice of appeal when retained by a client is making sure they understand the potential outcomes. This includes the fact that appellate courts are not for the purpose of hearing new information. Clients must understand that the process is for assessing the legal soundness of the district court’s judgment. In so many words, they are analyzing the decision of the district court to ascertain whether or not legal errors were made. The question is whether relief is actually warranted by an appeal based on the various issues raised in the brief.
When trial errors are made, they often consist of procedural violations. Depending on the nature of the situation, there is a chance that the errors will result in an appeal and a new trial, as aforementioned. When considering the various outcomes of the appeal, the client must understand that instead of an acquittal, there’s a chance that thy will have a new trial granted. From a statistical point of view, there’s also a chance that the new case will be tried in the same district court. Perhaps the government will choose not to try the case again, which is another way in which victory can be obtained from a federal criminal appeal. Realistically, that’s not likely to happen. It’s more likely that a new trial will be granted, which means the client is right back where they started.
Some might say that even a slight probability of having a new trial is worth filing an appeal. Others believe that filing an appeal when there were no legal errors made is just a waste of time. The bottom line is that the decision belongs to the client. However, it is important to make sure they understand jurisprudence. The workload that accompanies an appeal is heavy and requires commitment. If filing an appeal is likely to be an exercise in futility, there should be an understanding of why that opinion is held. It’s always best when clients make an informed decision.