If you want to appeal your federal criminal case, you should first understand what that means. Federal appeals aren’t granted to review the facts of the case. The appeal in not a retrial but a review of the legal processes followed by the judge and prosecutor in the original trial.
If the judge made questionable rulings that didn’t follow legal precedents, you might have grounds for appeal. Most legal appeals take place outside of the courtroom. Both the prosecution and the defense provide legal briefs to support their arguments.
Notice of Appeal
A Notice of Appeal is not the actual appeal but an indication that an appeal will likely be filed. This document puts both sides on notice that an appeal is being considered. This notice is short and includes the reasons that an appeal might be filed. The Notice of Appeal must generally be filed within 10 days of the judgment.
Some defendants panic after learning that a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 10 days in the belief that they must prepare their entire case within the deadline. Like all legal procedures, federal appeals grind slowly, so the defense team have plenty of time to prepare. However, it’s important not to wait until the deadline to file your Notice of Appeal – unexpected circumstances that cause a delay could cost kill your chance to appeal.
Commonly Used Grounds for Federal Appeals
The most common grounds for federal appeals include the following errors in legal procedure:
- False Arrest
False arrest is a legal reason for appealing a guilty judgment. False arrests occur when law enforcement officers arrest someone without a warrant or probable cause.
- Lack of Evidence
The lack of real evidence doesn’t always result in a “not guilty” verdict. If the evidence in thin or entirely circumstantial, appeals can be granted for a lack of legally acceptable evidence.
- Improper Jury Instructions
Judges are required to explain the options for convicting a defendant in a criminal case. If the judge fails to mention the options of lighter sentences or the elements necessary to convict, the instructions are improper and grounds for an appeal.
- Admission of Improper Evidence or Exclusion of Valid Evidence
In criminal trials, there is always an early hearing to determine what evidence will be allowed and what will be excluded. The judge decides on the evidentiary value and relevance for both sides. The admission of illegally obtained evidence or the exclusion of relevant evidence constitutes grounds for an appeal.
- Juror Misconduct
Courts spend a lot of time choosing jury members. Jurors are under the strictest guidelines to be impartial and not discuss the case before retiring to consider a verdict. Juror misconduct – such as taking a bribe, discussing the case out of court or holding a grudge against the defendant – is a solid reason for appealing a judgment.
In order to appeal, it’s usually necessary that the defendant’s lawyer objected to the improper procedure during the original trial.
Prepare for Delays
Federal appeals seldom result in quick justice for wrongfully convicted defendants. The process is slow and mostly handled by lawyers, so getting information on your appeal might take a long time. The lawyers must have time to research precedents and counter the possible objections of opposing counsel. The entire trial is usually reviewed by the defense, prosecution and judge.
Most appeals are resolved on the basis of the legal briefs prepared by both sides – about 75 percent of the total federal appeals. That means there will be no big court case. Many defendants expect to be exonerated in a flood of media attention, but that’s unlikely in most cases. Overturning a decision based on certain legal grounds doesn’t absolve you of guilt or prove your innocence.
Most successful appeals, however, come from oral arguments. Finding a lawyer who’s knowledgeable about the appeals process is an important step. There are many things that a skilled appellate lawyer can do to encourage oral arguments.