The federal criminal appeals process is conducted behind closed doors. Due to this, many details of the process are poorly understood by potential appellants. Before you appeal a district court decision, make sure you understand the nature and requirements of a federal criminal appeal.
What Is a Federal Criminal Appeal?
An appeal is a reprocessing of an already decided district court case. The appeal attacks the judgment of the court and points out legal errors that occurred during the trial.
New evidence is not admitted in federal criminal appeals. Instead, a panel of judges in the appellate court will look over the existing details of the case and decide if the judgment was passed without error.
What You Need to File an Appeal
If you wish to appeal a judgment or court order, you must file a notice of appeal within 10 days after the judgment is entered. The notice is a short document that informs both the district and appellate courts of your intention to appeal. This is a hard deadline, but the attorney who handled your initial case will often file to help you maintain your appellate rights. You can also file a pro se notice on your own.
After the notice is filed, your legal counsel will help you prepare a brief for the appellate court to look over. This brief is an incredibly important document that will likely decide the outcome of your trial. Each court is extremely strict about how appeal briefs should be formatted, indexed, and bound. Do not try to file your brief on your own; an attorney will help ensure that your brief is not rejected due to a technical error.
The brief will include relevant transcripts from the district court case, documented evidence, and written arguments from your lawyer. Depending on the length of the case, some appellate courts may request a bound transcript of the entire court record. The appellant is financially responsible for this request.
How a Federal Criminal Appeal Is Decided
Once the appellate court has received the brief, they will begin reviewing the details of your case. This process can take an extremely long time. Appellate courts are small and review thousands of cases, each of which must be read by multiple judges. Stay in contact with your attorney and have patience during the appeal process.
Due to the high volume of cases, many are decided solely based on the information provided in the brief. Your attorney will make sure that the relevant details are included in this document.
Appellate judges are not interested in the details of your case; instead, they are looking for trial errors. These errors can occur in the admission of evidence, the arguments in the trial, or the instruction of the jury. The court will also see if sufficient evidence was provided to prove the case.
Finally, some appeals are granted an oral argument. As an appellant, this is the ideal scenario; a compelling oral argument is far more likely to convince the judges. These arguments are held on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. Your attorney will have roughly 30 minutes to verbally explain your case and answer any questions from the panel regarding the details of the brief.
What Happens if an Appeal Is Successful?
Relief is granted to successful appellants. This relief takes the form of either an acquittal or a new trial.
An acquittal is granted if the appellant successfully challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in the original case. This is the best decision for the appellant, but it only occurs in a small percentage of cases.
If trial errors are found, the entire trial will be dismissed and a new trial will be requested. This may re-start a very lengthy legal process. In some cases, the appellate court will choose to suppress some of the evidence from the original trial, and the prosecution will choose not to pursue a new trial without this essential evidence.
The federal criminal appeal process is not to be taken lightly. Find an attorney willing to spend time and attention on your case, and consult with them for the duration of the entire appeal.