What are Federal Criminal Appeals?

A federal criminal appeal is also called a "direct appeal" and is a legal proceeding in which the conviction and/or sentence of the district court is challenged on legal grounds.  A direct appeal is the first way in which a federal criminal defendant who has been convicted of a crime, either after a guilty plea or a trial, may seek review of a conviction or sentence.   A federal criminal defendant has the legal right to appeal your case to a higher court under federal law if you do not agree with a decision made by the district court or with the jury verdict.

What is a Notice of Appeal?

In a federal criminal case, a defendant's notice of appeal must be filed in the district court within 14 days after the later of either the entry of either the judgment or the order being appealed; or the filing of the government's notice of appeal.  The Notice of Appeal is not the same as the appeal itself, but it is a necessary first step in the appeal process that alerts the courts that you intend to exercise your legal right to appeal.  If the Notice of Appeal is not timely filed, you forfeit your right to appeal.

Where are Federal Criminal Appeals Filed?

After the Notice of Appeal is filed in the district court, the appeal is docketed in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.  There are 13 Circuit Courts across the country, and each hears appeals from the district courts within its borders.  Appeals from the courts of appeals are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals – which is based in Atlanta and hears appeals from all U.S. District Courts in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.  As soon as a Notice of Appeal is filed and the appeal fee is paid, the district court transfers the record to the appellate court.  Once the Court of Appeals receives the copy of the notice of appeal and the record from the district court, the circuit court will docket the appeal.  A docketing notice will then be sent out to the parties, which usually provides the briefing schedule.

What Happens After Federal Criminal Appeals are Docketed?

After federal criminal appeals are docketed, the defendant - now called the appellant - must serve and file a brief within 40 days. The government - called the appellee - must serve and file a brief within 30 days after the appellant's brief is served. The appellant may serve and file a reply brief within 21 days after service of the appellee's brief.

Unlike district court, the circuit courts do not consider new evidence.  Normally, a panel of three judges will review the written record of the trial as well as the legal arguments of the appellant and the appellee. Appeals are usually decided based only on the written arguments, but the panel of judges may allow each party to present brief oral arguments to the court as well.  Oral argument is often requested for the opportunity to argue important and often-complex issues to the three-judge panel considering the case.

How are Federal Criminal Appeals Decided?

The panel of judges will meet and decide on an outcome for the appeal. One of the judges will write a formal opinion of the court explaining the decision, and if there is a dissenting judge he or she will write a formal dissent explaining why he or she disagrees with the appellate court’s ruling.

The court may affirm the trial court’s decision, reverse it, or remand the case which sends it back to the trial court for further action or an entirely new trial.

If the panel denies relief, it is possible to request rehearing en banc to reconsider the decision when the case concerns a matter of exceptional public importance or the panel's decision appears to conflict with a prior decision of the court.  "En banc" means that the appeal is considered by all the judges of the circuit court rather than just the panel of three judges who decided the original appeal.

If rehearing en banc is not granted or upholds the panel's decision, there may be grounds to request certiorari review by the United States Supreme Court.

Don't Wait - Federal Criminal Appeals Have Strict Time Limits

Federal criminal defense attorney Ann Fitz is experienced in federal criminal appeals and has prepared motions and briefs in the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Circuits, as well as the United States Supreme Court.  Call her today at 561-932-1690 or by using the contact form to schedule a confidential review your case.