Federal Criminal Appeals

Have you been recently convicted in a criminal case in federal district court? If so, you have a constitutional right to appeal your conviction and/or sentence to the United States Court of Appeals that oversees the district courts in your circuit. The window for filing a notice of appeal is extremely short, so you must act quickly to retain a qualified federal criminal appellate attorney who understands federal criminal law and has experience navigating the often-complicated processes and procedures of the federal circuit courts of appeals.

Although winning appeals is rare, we have decades of experience representing criminal defendants in federal criminal appeals and have been successful in getting convictions and sentences overturned altogether and in getting cases remanded for new hearings, which often result in better outcomes for our clients. We have an intimate understanding of federal criminal law and the federal appeals process and are able to anticipate and find solutions to the unique challenges that arise in handling these difficult cases.

Call us today at (404) 658-9070 to discuss your federal criminal appeal.

What is a direct federal criminal appeal?

A direct appeal is the process through which a criminal defendant may challenge his or her conviction or sentence. It is a request that a higher court – in the federal system, the circuit court of appeals that oversees the district courts in the defendant’s district – review the proceedings below to determine if they were fair and if the correct law was properly applied.

An appeal is not a new trial. The appellate court does not consider new evidence, it does not hear witnesses testify, and there is no jury. Instead, an appellate court makes decisions based on the record of the proceedings below and the parties’ appeal briefs. Depending on the case and the kinds of issues involved, the appellate court might hear oral arguments from the attorneys for the parties to the appeal.

What kinds of issues are raised in federal criminal appeals?

Common issues in direct criminal appeals include whether the district court properly admitted or excluded certain evidence; whether the district court’s instructions to the jury were appropriate; whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdict; whether there was jury or prosecutor misconduct; whether the defendant’s plea was knowingly and voluntarily made; and whether the district court imposed a procedurally and substantively reasonable sentence.

Can I still appeal my sentence if I pled guilty?

Criminal defendants will often waive certain constitutional and statutory rights as part of the plea process. Plea agreements routinely contain sentencing appeal waivers whereby a criminal defendant agrees not to appeal his sentence. Whether and what you can appeal following entry of a guilty plea depends on the scope of the appeal waiver contained in the plea agreement. Although there are certain exceptions, a knowing and voluntary sentencing appeal waiver will almost always prevent you from appealing any issues covered by the waiver. Despite a valid appeal waiver, a criminal defendant can still appeal on the grounds that the sentence imposed exceeded the statutory maximum or was based on impermissible criteria such as race or religion. Some courts of appeals will refuse to enforce an appeal waiver if enforcement would bar an appeal expressly preserved in the plea agreement; if counsel was ineffective or coercive in negotiating the plea agreement; or if enforcing the waiver would result in a miscarriage of justice. Claims that a sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment are not excepted from sentencing appeal waivers.

How do I file an appeal in my federal criminal case?

The appeal process is initiated by the filing of a “Notice of Appeal” in the district court. You must file the notice of appeal within 14 days of the entry of the judgment or the order being appealed. If you have made a timely motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29; for a new trial under Rule 33; or for arrest of judgment under Rule 34, then you must file your notice of appeal within 14 days after the entry of the order disposing of the last remaining motion, or within 14 days after the entry of the judgment of conviction, whichever is later.

What happens after the notice of appeal is filed?

Following filing of the notice of appeal, the appeal will be assigned a court of appeals docket number by the Court of Appeals Clerk’s Office. The defendant below becomes the “appellant” and the government becomes the “appellee.” Within 14 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, the appellant must order transcripts of the proceedings that are not already on file and that may be necessary for the appeal. If the appellant chooses not to order transcripts, he or she must file a certificate stating that no transcript will be ordered.

After the appeal has been docketed and the record on appeal has been forwarded to the Court of Appeals, the clerk will issue a briefing schedule notifying the parties when their briefs are due. The appellant’s opening brief, which sets out the appellant’s legal arguments on appeal, must be served and filed within 40 days after the record is filed. The government then has 30 days to file its brief, which generally responds to the arguments raised in the appellant’s brief. The appellant will then have an opportunity to file a reply brief. Once the briefs have been filed, they are forwarded to a three-judge panel for a decision on the merits. Although most cases are decided on the briefs alone, the parties may request oral argument. Oral arguments, which give each party’s attorneys a chance to make arguments on the issues raised in the briefs and to convince the court to decide in their client’s favor, is rarely granted and is generally reserved for cases that involve truly novel issues of law or extremely complex facts.

What are some potential outcomes of a federal criminal appeal?

The Court of Appeals panel may decide the appeal with or without a written opinion, and it may take several months for a decision in the case to issue. Possible outcomes include affirming the district court and upholding the judgment of conviction or sentence; reversing the district court and vacating the judgment or sentence; or remanding the case back to the district court to take additional action or address certain issues.

Following the court’s final opinion, the losing party may petition the three-judge panel for rehearing, petition the Court for an en banc hearing (a hearing before the entire Court of Appeals), or file a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States.

If you are a defendant in a criminal matter and you would like to appeal your conviction or sentence, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal appellate attorney as soon as possible. Call us today at (404) 658-9070.

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