How Can You Challenge A Federal Criminal Conviction?
Getting convicted of a federal crime can be devastating. You may feel like your life is over. However, there are options for challenging a conviction even after a guilty verdict. Don’t give up hope! This article will walk through the various ways you can appeal a federal criminal conviction.
Direct Appeal of a Federal Criminal Conviction
The most common way to challenge a conviction is to directly appeal it. You have the right to appeal a guilty verdict, while the prosecution cannot appeal if you are found not guilty.
To start the direct appeal process, you must file a notice of appeal within 14 days of the judgment being entered. This is a very short timeframe, so it’s important to act quickly and get an experienced federal appeals lawyer on your side.
On the appeal, your lawyer will argue that there were legal mistakes made during the original criminal case. For example, issues that could be raised include:
- Errors in evidentiary rulings (like improperly admitting certain evidence)
- Mistakes in jury instructions
- Violations of court procedures
- Prosecutorial misconduct
- Sentencing errors
Your lawyer will explain these issues thoroughly in a legal brief filed with the appeals court. The prosecution will also submit a brief defending the original conviction.
The appeals court will then review the briefs and trial records. No new evidence is allowed at this stage – the judges are only looking at whether legal errors were made.
If you win the appeal, your conviction could potentially be reversed entirely. More likely, you’ll get a new trial or resentencing.
Unfortunately, direct appeals rarely succeed. Only around 11% of federal criminal convictions are reversed on direct appeal. But it’s still worth trying, as overturning a conviction is very rare without going through the direct appeal process first.
“Habeas Corpus” Appeals
Another option for challenging a conviction after it becomes final is to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Habeas corpus petitions are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2255. They allow federal prisoners to argue that their conviction or sentence violated the Constitution or federal law.
Some potential habeas corpus arguments include:
- Ineffective assistance of counsel (like your lawyer failing to call a key witness)
- Prosecutorial misconduct
- Newly discovered evidence proving innocence
- The sentence exceeds the legal maximum
Habeas petitions can also argue that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
The advantage of habeas petitions is that they allow arguments beyond just procedural legal errors. You can make fact-based arguments about things outside the trial record.
The downside is that federal courts are reluctant to grant habeas petitions. They will only be granted if you can show a clear constitutional violation that undermines the conviction.
Finally, the President of the United States has the power to fully pardon federal convictions. A pardon forgives the conviction completely.
However, presidential pardons are extremely rare. You can apply for one through the Office of the Pardon Attorney, but only a small fraction of applicants are approved.
Factors that help get a pardon include:
- Showing remorse and good conduct after conviction
- Having a significant period of good citizenship after release
- Getting support from the prosecutor or judge
- Demonstrating hardship from the conviction
Unless you have political connections, a presidential pardon is very unlikely. But it doesn’t hurt to apply if all else fails.
Challenging a federal conviction after a guilty verdict is difficult. But working with an experienced federal appeals lawyer gives you the best possible chance.
Don’t hesitate to explore options like direct appeals, habeas petitions, and even presidential pardons. You have nothing to lose by trying.
With persistence and a good legal strategy, many federal inmates have eventually gotten their convictions overturned. Don’t lose hope – keep fighting to regain your freedom.