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Federal Criminal Appeals: What You Should Know
The average citizen doesn’t have more than a basic idea of what is involved in a trial. What is often depicted on television is much different than a real federal criminal appeals trial. While there is much information available online about appeals, it is still quite confusing to many. Each state has its own appellate system in place. Below are some things to understand about federal criminal appeals.

What Are Federal Criminal Appeals?

An appeal is a legal process in which a criminal conviction or sentence gets reviewed by another, higher court. There is no constitutional right for criminal cases to be appealed. However, each state has their own established system for appeals and the job of the court is to make sure the law is applied correctly. There are two district courts that often hear appeals. The Supreme Court only hears less than 100 cases a year. Most appeals are heard by district courts.

Federal Appeals District Courts

Within the federal system, there are thirteen courts that hear appeals. Each circuit oversees a specific region in the United States, except for the Federal Circuit. They play no role in appeals for criminal cases.

What Happens During The Appeals Process For Federal Criminal Cases?

To begin the appeals process, a defendant needs to wait until they receive a final judgment in their case. Federal courts typically do not hear appeals before final judgments are given. To be eligible for an appeal, it needs to be filed within 14 days of the final judgment. Courts will often deny an appeal if the time limit has passed.

Once filed, there will be entered a schedule for the filing briefs. Once they are submitted with the courts, both attorneys must submit their arguments for reversing or affirming the judgment. These need to be presented completely and clearly or the judge may refuse to consider them.

The appeals court will often get divided into panels of judges to review the briefs, review the records and make a decision on the case. Most criminal appeals held in the federal courts get decided based on the briefs without oral arguments included. An oral argument is not a solid indication that your case appeal will be successful. However, most federal criminal appeals are never reversed without oral arguments included. Once the process has been completed, the appeals court will give a written decision that includes their opinions and reasoning.

How Long Is The Federal Criminal Appeals Process?

The appeals process can be lengthy. The actual length will vary between circuits. The Fourth Circuit court will review and have it resolved in around nine months to one year. For other circuits, it can take much longer for federal criminal appeals to be resolved. If a case is more complex and involves a larger record load, it can take even longer.

Possible Outcomes For Appeals

Essentially, the appeals court will either reverse or affirm the judgment from a trial court. When a judgment gets reversed, additional instructions will be included that will either instruct the court to dismiss the original charges or hold a new trial. Keep in mind, it is extremely rare for a federal criminal case to be reversed.

What Can Be Argued By Defendant During The Appeals Process?

As can be seen, an appeal is much different than a trial. It is not a forum to have a decision of guilt or innocence to be made. Instead, the appeals process allows the courts to decide whether the law was applied correctly and determine if a new trial is warranted.

Considerations To Be Made For Appeals Process:

•Standard of Review- This is how the appeals court will treat the previous trial court’s decision. It will be decided as a clear error or an abuse of discretion.

•Error Preservation- This refers to whether the error was properly objected to in the trial court. When done properly, the issue for an appeal has been “preserved” appropriately.

•Prejudice- To have a reversal of an appeal won, it must be proven a trial court made errors that impacted the outcome of the original trial.

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