People who are not lawyers get much of their legal knowledge from TV and movies. It seems in every fictional criminal case we see portrayed on screen, a conviction is followed by an appeal, which often successfully frees a wrongly convicted character. In real life, however, this is rarely the case. For a federal conviction to be appealed, there must be evidence that the trial court applied the law incorrectly, and convincing a higher court that this is the case requires a skilled attorney.
An Appeal Is Not a New Trial
If a federal trial court conviction is appealed, the appellate court will review the actions of the lower court, but will not hear new evidence. The appellate court will either affirm the lower court ruling or reverse it. If the ruling is reversed, the court of appeals may dismiss the charges, order a new trial, set aside a portion of a fine, or re-sentence the defendant.
An Overview of the Federal Appeal Process
An appeal cannot be filed until a verdict has been reached. If your attorney believes there are grounds for an appeal in your federal criminal case, he or she has 14 days after the conclusion of your trial to file a notice of appeal. The appeal will then proceed as follows:
- The Court of Appeals will set a schedule for filing briefs.
- Your attorney will work with the prosecutor on the original case to obtain the necessary documents to submit to the court. These will include transcripts of court proceedings, motions filed in the case, trial exhibits, and more.
- Your attorney will submit his written arguments for reversing the lower court ruling in what is known as a brief. The brief must be clear and complete, as no additional arguments can be added later in the process.
- The panel of three judges assigned to your case will read the briefs, review the record, and decide the case.
- In some cases, the panel may request oral arguments. This is a good sign because federal courts typically do not reverse criminal convictions without oral argument.
- The court will then issue a written decision. Often, the decision includes reasons for the decision, but you may receive a per curiam opinion that simply provides a decision with no explanation.
This process can take up to a year. In the meantime, the lower court decision stands, and you will be serving your original sentence.
Why You Need an Attorney With Federal Appeals Experience
Appealing a federal criminal conviction is a technical, time-consuming process, and you don’t want to trust just any criminal defense attorney with the task.
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