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What Issues are Raised in a Federal Criminal Appeal?

October 9, 2021

The process of filing an appeal starts with an appellate brief, which summarizes the contents in the first few lines. This document can be long, and it makes an argument regarding the court proceedings. In order to understand what issues are raised in federal criminal appeals brief, it’s necessary to understand the appellate court system and how it functions.

Appellate Court Procedures

This appellate court isn’t a physical location, and the process doesn’t take place in person. There are no juries, witnesses or court record keepers involved in a formal proceeding. This also means that there is relatively little public understanding about the appellate courts and how they function. New facts and evidence are not admissible to the appellate court, with few exceptions. [1]

Without this background knowledge, it’s hard to understand how issues are raised and handled in a federal criminal appellate court. The appellate brief is widely considered to be the most influential document in the federal criminal appellate court. The content of the brief contains the issues raised in the appeal.

The Appellate Circuit Court System

The system known as the Circuit Court of Appeals is a judicial resource that is available to anyone who received a disagreeable ruling.[2] However, the appeals process doesn’t deal with any new evidence, witness statements or documents. It simply requires both lawyers to file appellate briefs that outline the issues to be reviewed by the appellate court judge. The appeals process begins after the court reaches a conclusion in the case. This is why the appeals process is different from a re-trial.

Issues Raised in the Appellate Court

The process starts with the lawyer that files a notice to appeal; this must be submitted within a 10-day period. This process is typically initiated by the side who lost the case in the court. This means that a special appellate lawyer will file the notice to appeal, which initiates the appellate process. The notice to appeal is very short; once this process goes into effect, both sides will file the appellate brief. This is the document that raises the specific issues that will be reviewed by the appellate judge.

There is another series of briefs filed in order for the appellate court to agree to hear the case. Once the case is accepted by the court, the court will receive briefs from each side. The appellate brief is an influential document; it has been observed that many appeals are resolved on the merits of the brief.

The issues raised in the brief typically include a variety of procedural mistakes and errors relating to protocol:

Conflicts with legal precedence: Appellants often raise an issue because of a conflict with some existing legal precedent or higher constitutional law.

Improper procedures during court: If a procedural rule was violated during the trial, the appellate court may review the merits of this claim after reading the brief.

Unfair conduct or unfair court ruling: Unfairness is a common theme in appellate briefs. The case for why the issue is necessary to review will be addressed in the brief. Existing laws may be cited, and an argument will be made for why the action was unfair and should be overturned.

Motion to suppress evidence: This motion goes into effect on the basis of a claim that certain types of evidence should not be admissible on the basis of some reason, which is outlined in the brief. This reason is often related to procedural or statutory reasons, but it could be caused by a constitutional violation.

Prosecutorial misconduct: If the prosecutor presents false evidence, utilizes arguments deemed improper, discriminates during jury selection or fails to disclose exculpatory evidence, the appellate judge might consider ruling that prosecutorial misconduct occurred during the trial.

Writing an Appellate Brief

The purpose of the appellate brief is to influence the perception of the judge by presenting an argument as if from the judge’s point of view. Appeals are often won or rejected based on the skills of the appellate brief, so it’s critical to hire a skillful legal writer who is well-versed in the topics presented in the case.

Issues raised in the appellate brief should make a persuasive argument backed by existing case law, facts and logic. However, the narrative aspect of the appellate brief is also cited as extremely influential in creating a convincing presentation to the appellate judge.

The most successful appellate briefs are written in a way that the judge finds to be persuasive. Since many judges have general expertise without concentration in any one area of the law, it can be helpful to understand the particular perspective of the judge while crafting the appellate brief.

The issues within the brief itself must be presented in a light that is convincing in order to be persuasive. Facts that are relevant to the argument should bolster the main narrative without overshadowing the key points with jargon. The brief should contain a compelling legal argument framed with visual elements that frame the story; each sentence should help the judge to grasp the story with a minimal amount of effort.[3]

Citations:

[1] https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol40/iss5/1/

[2] https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/court-role-and-structure/about-us-courts-appeals

[3] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/minority-trial-lawyer/articles/2019/determining-what-issues-to-raise-on-appeal/

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