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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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Understanding Federal Criminal Appeals – Attorney Advice

By Spodek Law Group | October 20, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 04:48 pm


Understanding Federal Criminal Appeals – Attorney Advice

If you have been convicted of a federal crime, you may be wondering about filing an appeal. Appeals can be complicated, but this article will break it down into simple steps so you understand the basics. We’ll also give some attorney advice on strategies for federal criminal appeals.

What is a Federal Criminal Appeal?

An appeal is when you ask a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court. For example, if you are convicted in federal district court, you can appeal that conviction to the federal circuit court of appeals.

The appeals court will not retry your entire case. They will only look at the record from the original trial and the legal issues raised in your appeal. The goal of an appeal is to point out errors or problems with how your case was handled to try and get the conviction overturned.

When Can You File an Appeal?

In federal criminal cases, you can only appeal after the final judgment has been entered. This is usually after you have been convicted and sentenced. The deadline to file a notice of appeal is 14 days after the entry of judgment. This deadline is strict, so don’t delay.

What Are the Grounds for an Appeal?

There are several common reasons to appeal a federal conviction or sentence:

  • Errors in evidentiary rulings by the judge
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • A sentence that exceeds federal guidelines
  • New evidence that wasn’t presented at trial

Your attorney will review the record in your case and identify the best arguments to make on appeal based on mistakes or problems at your trial.

What is the Standard of Review?

The standard of review refers to how much deference the appeals court gives the lower court’s rulings. For most issues, the standard is “abuse of discretion” – meaning the appeals court will only overrule the trial judge if they made decisions that were clearly unreasonable or unfair.

For some issues, like questions of law, the standard may be “de novo” which means the appeals court will review that issue completely fresh, without deferring to the trial judge.

What Happens During a Federal Criminal Appeal?

Here are the basic steps in a federal criminal appeal:

  1. File a notice of appeal within 14 days of the judgment
  2. Order transcripts of everything that happened at trial
  3. File an opening brief explaining the issues and arguments
  4. The government files a response brief
  5. You file a reply brief responding to the government’s arguments
  6. Oral argument may be scheduled where each side presents arguments to the judges
  7. The appeals court issues a written decision resolving the appeal

The appeals process can take over a year in many cases. It involves quite a bit of legal writing and patience as you wait through each step. Having an experienced federal criminal appeals lawyer is essential.

What are the Possible Outcomes of an Appeal?

There are several ways an appeal could turn out:

  • Affirmed – The appeals court agrees with the lower court decision and upholds your conviction and/or sentence.
  • Reversed – The appeals court disagrees and overturns your conviction. This may result in an acquittal or a new trial.
  • Remanded – The appeals court sends the case back to the lower court to correct an error or address an issue.
  • Modified – The appeals court leaves the conviction but changes the sentence imposed. For example, reducing the length of incarceration.

Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is your conviction and/or sentence being affirmed. But appeals can still be worthwhile because there is always a chance of success, especially if there are strong issues in your case.

Attorney Advice for Federal Criminal Appeals

Here are some tips from experienced federal criminal appeals attorneys on strategies for handling the appeal process:

  • Raise every viable issue – You don’t get a second chance so include all arguments in your first appeal.
  • Start working on the appeal early – Don’t wait until the last minute to find an appellate attorney and begin strategizing.
  • Choose your lawyer carefully – Find someone experienced specifically in federal criminal appeals, not just any defense lawyer.
  • Emphasize the best issues – Focus on one or two of the strongest arguments rather than throwing in weaker ones.
  • Use the reply brief – Save new cases or arguments to use in countering the government’s response.
  • Request oral argument – This gives you a chance to persuade the judges in person.
  • Appeal the sentence too – Look for any mistakes in applying the sentencing guidelines.

Federal appeals are complex and difficult to win, but can be an important avenue for challenging a conviction or sentence. Having an experienced attorney in your corner will help maximize your chances. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of an appeal with your lawyer.


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