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About Federal Criminal Appeals

A federal criminal appeal is also called a “direct appeal” and is a legal proceeding in which the conviction and/or sentence of the U.S. District Court is challenged on legal grounds. A direct appeal is the first way in which a federal criminal defendant may seek review of a conviction or sentence. After pleading guilty to a crime or going through a trial resulting in a conviction, a federal criminal defendant has the legal right to appeal their case to a higher court under federal law if they do not agree with a decision made by the District Court or with the jury verdict.

What Is A Notice Of Appeal?

After a federal criminal case, a defendant or their attorney has 14 days to notify the District Court of an intent to appeal after either a judgment has been entered or the government has filed a notice of appeal. (Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A)).

The notice of appeal is not the same as the appeal itself, but it is a necessary first step in the appeal process that alerts the courts that you intend to exercise your legal right to appeal. If the Notice of Appeal is not timely filed, you forfeit your right to appeal.

Where Are Federal Criminal Appeals Filed?

After the notice of appeal is filed in the District Court, the appeal is docketed in a U.S. Court of Appeals. There are 13 Circuit Courts across the country, and each hears appeals from the District Courts within its borders. Appeals from the Courts of Appeals are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Atlanta and hears appeals from all U.S. District Courts in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

As soon as a notice of appeal is filed and the appeal fee is paid, the District Court transfers the record to the appellate court. Once the Court of Appeals receives the copy of the notice of appeal and the record from the District Court, the circuit court will docket the appeal. A docketing notice will then be sent out to the parties, which usually provides the briefing schedule.

What Happens After Federal Criminal Appeals Are Docketed?

After federal criminal appeals are docketed, the defendant – now called the appellant – “must serve and file a brief within 40 days.” The government – called the appellee – “must serve and file a brief within 30 days after the appellant’s brief is served. The appellant may serve and file a reply brief within 21 days after service of the appellee’s brief.” Unlike District Court, the circuit courts do not consider new evidence. (Federal Rules of Appellant Procedure, Rule 31. (a)(1))

In most cases, the three-judge panel reviews the legal arguments given by the appellant and the appellee as well as the written record of the trial. Appeals are usually decided based only on the written arguments. However, if the panel of judges allows it, each party to the appeal may also present a brief oral argument to the court. An appellant or appellate attorney may request the opportunity to argue important and often-complex issues to the three-judge panel considering the case.

How Are Federal Criminal Appeals Decided?

The three-judge panel or panel of judges meets to discuss and decide on the outcome of the appeal. As is customary, only one judge from the panel writes the formal opinion of the court, which includes the panel’s final decision on the matter. If a judge from the panel dissented from the other judges on the panel, then the dissenting judge is allowed to write a formal dissent, which will explain why they disagreed with the appellate court’s findings.

Depending on the panel’s findings, the court may remand the case back to the trial court for further review and/or a new trial entirely. In some cases, the panel may even affirm the lower court’s decision or revise it entirely. If the panel denies relief, it is possible to request rehearing en banc to reconsider the decision when the case concerns a matter of exceptional public importance or the panel’s decision appears to conflict with a prior decision of the court.

“En banc” means that the appeal is considered by all the judges of the circuit court rather than just the panel of three judges who decided the original appeal. If rehearing en banc is not granted or upholds the panel’s decision, there may be grounds to request certiorari review by the United States Supreme Court.

Don’t Wait – Federal Criminal Appeals Have Strict Time Limits

Federal criminal defense attorney Ann Fitz has 18 years of experience in federal criminal appeals. She has prepared motions and briefs in the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th circuits, as well as the United States Supreme Court. She fully understands the process of seeking post-conviction relief, and she will help guide you through every step with confidence.

Call the Law Office of Ann Fitz today at 561-932-1690 or by using the firm’s online form to schedule a confidential review of your case.