Federal Criminal Appeal

What is a Federal Criminal Appeal?

A Federal Criminal Appeal refers to the process of challenging a conviction or a sentence in a federal criminal case before a higher court. When a person is convicted of a federal crime after a jury or bench trial in a district court, they have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court, typically the United States Court of Appeals for the appropriate circuit. The purpose of a federal criminal appeal is to review the lower court’s decision and determine whether any errors were made that affected the defendant’s rights.

During a federal criminal appeal, the appellant (the party appealing the conviction or sentence) presents arguments to the appellate court, often claiming the district court made legal errors or that the sentence imposed was improper. The appellant’s arguments are based on the record of the trial, which includes transcripts of the proceedings, evidence, and other relevant documents. The argument is first presented in an appellate brief. The appellate court can also grant oral argument allowing the attorney to argue the case.

The appellate court reviews the case to determine whether errors occurred during the trial that affected the outcome or whether the sentence imposed was within the bounds of the law. The appellate court does not conduct a new trial or reexamine the evidence; instead, it focuses on legal issues and whether the district court made any mistakes that warrant reversing the conviction or modifying the sentence. During this process, the appellate court does not accept or hear new evidence. All arguments must be based on the trial record.

If the appellate court finds errors or misconduct during the trial, it may reverse the conviction and order a new trial or modify the sentence. Alternatively, the court may affirm the lower court’s decision if it determines that no errors occurred or that any errors were harmless and did not affect the outcome of the trial.

Common Types of Federal Criminal Appeals:

Direct Appeals: A direct appeal is the most common type of federal criminal appeal. It involves challenging a conviction or sentence after a trial in the district court. The appellant (the person appealing) argues that there were errors in the trial process, such as incorrect jury instructions, improper admission or exclusion of evidence, or violations of constitutional rights.

Sentencing Appeals: A sentencing appeal focuses specifically on challenging the sentence imposed by the district court. The appellant may argue that the court made an error in calculating the applicable guidelines, improperly considered certain factors, or imposed an unreasonable or excessive sentence.

Suppression Appeals: A suppression appeal involves challenging the admissibility of evidence obtained by law enforcement officers in violation of the Fourth Amendment or other constitutional rights. The appellant argues that the evidence should have been suppressed (excluded) from the trial because it was obtained illegally or through an unconstitutional search or seizure.

Habeas Corpus Petitions: While not strictly an appeal, a habeas corpus petition is a post-conviction remedy available to federal prisoners to challenge their conviction or sentence. In a habeas corpus petition, the petitioner (the person filing the petition) argues that their imprisonment violates their constitutional rights or that there was a fundamental error in the underlying trial or sentencing proceedings.

Successive Appeals: Successive appeals occur when an appellant files a new appeal after a previous appeal has been resolved. This usually happens when new evidence or legal arguments become available that were not previously raised or available during the initial appeal.

Certificate of Appealability (COA) Appeals: In habeas corpus cases, if the district court denies the petition, the petitioner may need to obtain a Certificate of Appealability (COA) to proceed with an appeal. A COA is a document issued by a judge that certifies that the petitioner has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.

It’s important to note that the specific procedures and requirements for federal criminal appeals can vary, and it’s advisable to consult with a qualified attorney who specializes in federal appellate practice for guidance and assistance in pursuing an appeal.

What Does a Federal Criminal Appeal Defense Attorney Do?

A federal criminal appeal defense attorney is experienced in handling appeals for clients who have been convicted of federal crimes after a trial. Their primary role is to review the trial record and identify potential errors or legal issues that may have occurred before or during the trial process. They then develop legal arguments and strategies to challenge the conviction or sentence and present them to the appropriate appellate court in a written brief.

Here are some specific tasks that a federal criminal appeal defense attorney may undertake:

Case Evaluation: The attorney will thoroughly review the trial transcript, evidence, court documents, and legal briefs to understand the details of the case and identify potential grounds for appeal. Often, the appellate attorney will interview the trial attorney and examine the trial attorney’s file. Interviewing the person who was convicted is also an important part of understanding the case.

Research and Analysis: They conduct extensive legal research to identify relevant statutes, regulations, and prior appellate court decisions that support their client’s appeal. They analyze the law and apply it to the specific facts of the case. An extensive review will include persuasive authority from other circuits as well.

Identifying Errors: They scrutinize the trial proceedings for errors made by the judge, prosecutors, or defense counsel that may have violated their client’s constitutional rights or affected the fairness of the trial. This can include errors in jury instructions, improper admission of evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, or ineffective assistance of counsel. Effective appellate attorneys must think creatively to both identify and develop appellate issues. Sometimes, arguing for a good faith extension, modification, or reversal of existing law is necessary.

Drafting Appellate Briefs: They prepare written briefs that outline the legal arguments and present them to the appellate court. These briefs must be well-researched, persuasive, and supported by legal authority. The attorney will often work closely with their client to gather additional information and evidence to support the arguments. Skilled appellate attorneys think carefully about which legal issues to include in briefs. Often, not all potential appellate issues are included. Appellate judges look with disfavor on briefs that include marginal issues and may overlook viable issues as a result.

Oral Arguments: In some cases, the attorney may have the opportunity to present oral arguments before the appellate court. They must effectively articulate their legal arguments and respond to questions posed by the judges. Often, these oral arguments last only 10 or 15 minutes. Appellate attorneys must be skilled at quickly making points and getting the most effective arguments across in the most persuasive way possible.

Post-Conviction Remedies: In addition to handling direct appeals, federal criminal appeal defense attorneys may also assist clients with post-conviction remedies, such as filing petitions for habeas corpus, challenging ineffective assistance of counsel, or seeking new evidence that may exonerate the client. These issues are often raised after any direct appeal has concluded.

Negotiations and Settlements: In certain situations, the attorney may engage in negotiations with prosecutors to explore the possibility of a post-trial or post-sentencing agreement or appellate settlement that could lead to a reduced sentence or a new trial.

Appellate Court Procedures: They are familiar with the rules and procedures of the appellate court system and ensure that all necessary documents and filings are submitted on time and in compliance with the court’s requirements. These are complex matters that experienced appellate attorneys are familiar with. Failure to follow these requirements can result in negative consequences for any pending appeal.

Overall, a federal criminal appeal defense attorney works diligently to protect their client’s rights, challenge wrongful convictions or harsh sentences, and strive for a favorable outcome in the appellate court. The lawyers at the Attorneys For Freedom Law Firm are admitted in Federal District Court and several Federal Appellate Courts and have been representing clients in federal criminal appeal cases for more than three decades. We have represented clients in many federal appellate cases as well as argued many times in federal appellate courts. Our attorneys have the experience and the knowledge to represent you in your federal criminal appeal.

To schedule a Strategy Session with an experienced federal criminal appeal attorney, contact the Attorneys For Freedom today. We can be reached online at AttorneysForFreedom.com or by calling our Arizona office at 480-755-7110.


Arizona Office Address:
3185 S. Price Rd.
Chandler, AZ 85248
Phone: 480-755-7110
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