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How Long Does a Federal Criminal Appeal Take?

October 13, 2021

Many people who’ve been convicted of federal crimes have questions about the appeals process. When you appeal a verdict, you are asking a higher court to reconsider the results of your case. The hope is that they’ll overturn your conviction, lessen your sentence, or even allow a new trial. However, the appeals process might take longer than you’d like.

How Long Do Appeals Take?

The length of an appeal is highly dependent on the details of your case. Appeals can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. There aren’t any time limits on how long the appeals process can last.

Why Do Appeals Take So Long?

The length of the appeals process depends on several factors:

  • How quickly your notice of appeal is filed
  • How quickly your appeal is filed
  • The opposing side’s response
  • Time for the judge to read and consider your appeal and the opposition’s response
  • How many people have filed appeals before you
  • Deliberation
  • Your case’s complexity
  • Your case’s merit

Filing a Notice of Your Appeal

Before you or your attorney can file an appeal, you must file a document called a notice of appeal. It will inform the court and the opposition that you plan to appeal.

Your attorney should do this as soon as possible after sentencing. In most federal criminal cases, your attorney must file a notice of appeal within 14 days of the entry of the judgment against you.

Filing Your Appeal

After you file a notice of appeal, filing the appeal itself is your next step. At that point, court clerks will review and consider all the information in your filing. Your attorney will describe any potential errors that may have happened in relation to your trial. Those errors could include problems of the following nature:

  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Improper exclusion of evidence
  • Inaccurate jury instructions
  • Errors in sentencing
  • Lack of adequate evidence
  • Juror misconduct
  • Ineffective counsel

The Opposing Side’s Response

The opposition, otherwise known as the appellee or respondent, will then review your appeal and formulate a written response. Because the respondent will want to prevent your conviction from being overturned, they might take more time than you’d like while crafting their response.

Earlier Appeals Come First

This stage is not really under anyone’s control. Even the opposition has nothing to do with this aspect of your wait time. The fact is that you’re not the only person filing an appeal, and the court addresses appeals in order of filing. If someone else filed an appeal before you, it’s only fair that their case will make it to the docket before yours, although it’s natural if you find it frustrating.

A Judge Reads Briefs and Hears Oral Arguments

At this step, a judge must review both your appeal and the opposition’s response. Sometimes, a judge also wants to hear oral arguments. The judge will perform this review as scheduled on the court calendar.

The Judge’s Decision

After the judge reads all briefs and hears any relevant oral arguments, they will arrive at a decision. This stage can take a while, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want a judge who will consider every detail with care, not a judge who makes hasty decisions.

If your case is particularly complex, that can add a good deal of time to the judge’s decision-making process.

Does the Length of Time Matter?

Regardless of how long your appeal takes, the timespan will not affect your results. Neither a shorter appeals process nor a longer one indicates anything about whether your appeal will be successful.

Can You Speed up Your Appeal?

Unfortunately, your options for speeding up your appeal are minimal. Almost every relevant factor is beyond your control: You can’t make the opposition, the judge, or anyone else do anything at your preferred pace.

Your attorney should file your notice of appeal, followed by your actual appeal, as soon as reasonably possible — but even that is not something you can influence. After all, your attorney must dedicate time to making sure your appeal is thorough and well-formulated.


Appealing a conviction for a federal crime is often a slow process. The timeline could be as fast as a few months, but it could also span years. The speed at which your appeals process occurs doesn’t tell you anything about the ultimate result. Though a slow process would surely be frustrating for you, the legal system will work at its own pace.

If you need help navigating the appeals process, you might benefit from contacting an attorney. A lawyer with experience in federal criminal appeals can help you understand what’s happening at every stage.



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