Federal Appeals

What is the Process for a Federal Criminal Appeal?

The federal appeals process starts once a defendant is convicted of a federally charged crime in a United States District Court. In the federal system, the district courts are commonly referred to as the lower federal courts that issue the initial ruling on a case. After the conviction is secured, a federal judge will then impose a sentence on a defendant enabling them to start their process in appealing a case. However, a defendant may not simply appeal a case because he or she was unhappy with the outcome of the trial or sentence, instead, a case must have legal grounds that warrant an appeal due to error in the process of obtaining a conviction. Several legal errors that could have grounds to be appealed on include, but are not limited to: prosecutorial misconduct, federal defense attorney negligence, abuse of discretion by that of the federal judge overseeing the case, or the possibility of evidence being admitted or excluded into the case that should not have. If a defendant feels that an issue that constitutes legal misconduct occurred during the course of their district court proceedings, they should consult an attorney to file a notice of appeal. 


Federal Notice of Appeal

A federal notice of appeal is the documentation from the defendant that notifies both the United States Court of Appeals and the prosecution that he or she is appealing the judgement in their case. The most important aspect of the federal notice of appeal is that the notice must be filed within 14 days of sentencing. If the notice is not filed within the specified time limit, the United States Court of Appeals will deny the application to appeal and initial judgement will be final. 


United States Court of Appeals Circuits

Federal appeals are handled by the United States Court of Appeals, however, these appeals courts are separated into 12 different circuits scattered across the country by geographical region. These circuits all apply identical rules from the Federal Appellate Procedure guidelines, yet, sometimes disagree on how a ruling of a certain style case should have been handled. Should that occur, the Supreme Court of the United States may accept a similar style of case to clarify the disagreement between two different circuits. In regards to a defendant’s case, the federal appellate attorney would submit a federal notice of appeal to whichever circuit their client was convicted in. For instance, if a defendant were to be convicted in California and they wanted to file a notice of appeal, the appellant attorney would file a notice of appeal with the the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, or more commonly, the Ninth Circuit. 


What Happens at the Circuit Court? 

A federal appellate attorney’s first step after filing a notice of appeal on behalf of their client is to obtain the transcripts from the United States District Court where the original case was heard. This process is known as “assembling the record on appeal,” in which the attorney collects information such as the exhibits, motions, and dialogue, that occurred over the course of the initial judgement. The attorney creates this record so that they can eventually highlight the misconduct that wrongfully sentenced or convicted their client to the circuit court judges. After the record is collected, it is the job of the appellant attorney to file a lengthy brief that indicates what sort of legal error the district court made that harmed the defendant. In doing so, the attorney also cites relevant case law, statutes, and precedents, that supports the defendant’s position and ultimately, provides the court with grounds to initiate a form of relief towards the defendant. Forms of relief include but are not limited to: a reversal of conviction, further proceedings to occur in the district court, or a possible issuing a of a new sentence. 


The Prosecution’s Response and Court Proceedings

After the appellant attorney has filed their brief stating their case, the prosecution, or appellee attorney, will file a response brief that attempts to nullify or justify the claims made by the defendant’s attorney. Often, the appellee attorney will acknowledge the possible error that may have occurred in the original case, but state that it was not entirely relevant to securing the conviction of the defendant. Once the appellee has completed his or her brief, both parties will submit their briefs to the circuit judges. The circuit judges themselves consist of a panel of 3 judges who each review the briefs, record, and overall context of the case, to make an affirmed or reversed ruling on the appeal. Frequently, judges decide the case based on briefs alone and do not set a case for oral argument, however, there are rare instances where the judges will set such an occasion. If the appeal reaches an oral argument each of the attorney’s would present the most important aspects of their brief’s to the panel and submit to answer as many questions as possible from the circuit court judges. Finally, once both sides have submitted briefs and if the possibility for oral argument has passed, the judges will issue a ruling by written decision on the case. 


Post-Ruling Options

If the ruling comes down and the defendant is still not happy with the outcome, the appellant attorney can file a petition for rehearing by the same appellate court judges or for a rehearing en banc. During this rehearing, if granted, the appellant attorney would point out legal mistakes the judges created when issuing the appeal decision on behalf of their client. If the petition is not granted, in extremely rare cases, the appellant attorney could file a writ of certiorari, also known as an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. While the Supreme Court only takes an estimated 80 to 100 cases per year, if a defendant’s case has a constitutionally questionable issue at the heart of their case, the Supreme Court may decide to take their case, however, this outcome is heavily unlikely. If both the petition for rehearing and writ of certiorari are denied, the circuit court ruling is final. 


Federal Appeal Overview

While the process of filing a Federal Criminal Appeal may seem straightforward, it is extremely drawn out and takes many months, or even years to complete. In addition, the handling of a federal appeals case requires a seasoned appellate attorney to represent a defendant from the initial filing of the notice of appeal, to the final judgement by the circuit judges. It is absolutely vital to have the right federal appeal attorney represent you throughout this daunting process. If you or know someone who has recently been convicted a federal crime, contact the federal appeal attorneys at Kenney Legal Defense  at (855) 505-5588 today!