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Last Updated on: 13th October 2023, 08:21 pm
If you’ve been convicted of a federal crime and plan to appeal, you’re probably wondering – how long will this take? The answer, unfortunately, is that federal appeals are a lengthy process. My friend Joe learned this the hard way when he was convicted of a federal drug crime last year.
Joe’s case seemed pretty straightforward at first. He was arrested with a small amount of illegal drugs in his car. His public defender advised him to take a plea deal, but Joe insisted on going to trial because he believed he was innocent. After a 2-day trial, the jury found Joe guilty. We were all shocked when the judge sentenced him to 5 years in prison.
Joe decided to appeal his conviction. He thought the police had violated his rights by searching his car without permission. His new lawyer filed a notice of appeal within 10 days of the sentencing, as required. But that was just the beginning. Here’s what happened next:
After filing the notice of appeal, Joe had to wait for the court reporter to prepare transcripts of everything said at trial. This took 2 months! The court reporter said she had a backlog of cases to transcribe. While Joe waited in prison, his lawyer wrote up a draft of the appeal brief. But he couldn’t finalize it without the transcripts.
As soon as the transcripts arrived, Joe’s lawyer finished the 50-page appeal brief. This detailed all the legal errors made at trial that justified reversing Joe’s conviction. It took the lawyer 3 weeks to research the case law and write the complex brief. After filing it with the appeals court, they had to wait for the prosecution’s response.
Joe was stunned when the prosecution’s brief arrived – it was over 100 pages! They cited numerous cases and precedents arguing why Joe’s conviction should stand. Reading their skilled arguments made Joe feel anxious about his chances. His lawyer insisted their brief was just trying to overwhelm the facts.
Based on the briefs filed by both sides, Joe’s appeal was scheduled for oral arguments in 5 months. The judges questioned both attorneys extensively. Joe was grateful his lawyer was so knowledgeable about the case facts and legal issues.
But then Joe had to wait…and wait…and wait. 11 painful months passed until he finally received the appeals court decision. The anxious delay took a toll on Joe’s mental health. He couldn’t understand why it took over a year just to get a ruling.
Sadly, Joe’s long ordeal is typical for federal appeals. There are several reasons why they drag on:
The excruciatingly slow pace of federal appeals makes the experience even more agonizing. Defendants feel their lives are on hold while they anxiously await justice. Joe got depressed watching other inmates with shorter sentences come and go while he waited on his appeal.
If you find yourself in Joe’s shoes awaiting a federal appeal ruling, here are some tips to help you cope:
The waiting is the hardest part of the appellate process. Joe wishes he’d prepared better for the lengthy delay instead of expecting a quick resolution.
Despite the agonizing delay, going through the appeals process is necessary if you believe an injustice occurred at trial. Joe ended up being grateful he appealed, because after 15 months the court finally overturned his conviction!
The judges ruled the police had violated Joe’s Fourth Amendment rights by searching his car without probable cause. They said the drug evidence was inadmissible, so Joe’s conviction was reversed. He was released from prison after serving 20 months.
Joe knows if he hadn’t appealed, he would have served the full 5 year sentence based on illegally obtained evidence. The appeal was a long, difficult process, but ultimately it brought justice. Joe is now a free man with a clean record thanks to his lawyer’s dedication and perseverance through the federal appeals system.
The wait is excruciating, but don’t give up hope. With a good attorney, strong arguments, and patience, you may also see justice prevail. Our flawed system still works, even if it moves at a snail’s pace. Don’t let the delays discourage you from fighting for your rights through the federal appeals process. The light at the end is worth chasing.
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