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Can You Appeal a Guilty Plea in Federal Court?

Posted by Ann Fitz | Mar 31, 2023 | 0 Comments

If you pled guilty in federal court, it's not the end of the road for your case. Depending on the circumstances, you may still have options for appealing your guilty plea and getting a new outcome in your case. Let's explore what to know about appealing a guilty plea in federal court.

Understanding Your Right to Appeal

In the United States justice system, everyone has the right to appeal their criminal conviction (or guilty plea) if they feel that their rights were violated or that there was some other form of injustice or error during the legal process. This is even true if you entered a guilty plea in federal court. However, it is important to note that this right is only available under certain specific circumstances and conditions. In many cases, appeals are only allowed when one of two conditions are met: either (1) you can prove that something went wrong with your original trial or proceedings, or (2) you can prove that your sentence was excessively harsh compared to similar sentences handed out by other courts.

Most plea agreements with the government contain a waiver of appeal in most circumstances, so you need to make sure that you preserve your right to appeal when entering a guilty plea.  This can be done either by negotiation of the parties or by entering a “straight up” plea (also known as a blind plea), where you enter a guilty plea without a plea agreement.

The Appeals Process

If you've properly preserved your right to appeal and you decide to move forward with an appeal, it is important to understand the appeals process and how long it may take before your case is resolved. Generally speaking, an appeal consists of four steps: filing a notice of appeal; submitting briefs outlining your reasons for appealing; presenting oral arguments before a three-judge panel; and finally obtaining a decision from the appellate court. It typically takes several months for an appeal to be decided by an appellate court—sometimes longer depending on how busy the court is at any given time—so be prepared for this extended timeline if you do choose to pursue an appeal of your guilty plea in federal court.

Appealing a guilty plea in federal court can be complex and time consuming, but it's not impossible if you understand what conditions must be met and what steps must be taken. While pursuing an appeal isn't always successful, understanding the process and knowing when it could benefit you can help give you more options moving forward with your case—and potentially get you closer to achieving justice in your situation.

About the Author

Ann Fitz

Attorney Ann Fitz Attorney Ann Fitz has 20 years of experience as a federal criminal attorney and appellate practice attorney.  She began her career as a prosecutor in 2003 and started her own federal criminal defense practice in 2007.  She is devoted to protecting the rights of the accused in f...


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