A direct appeal is one of the first ways a federal criminal defense attorney can challenge their client's criminal conviction. In most cases, even if the defendant pleaded guilty to a criminal charge, they may still be able to challenge their sentence. A direct appeal is a way for a defendant to have their challenge heard by a federal appellate court after the trial court has rendered their decision.
Federal Direct Appeals Process
An appellate hearing does not involve retrying the trail case all over again. Rather it is a chance for your appeals attorney to argue there were errors in the trial court process that had an impact on the trial decision or the sentencing.
Almost every defendant is allowed a direct appeal after the trial court conviction and sentencing. In some cases, a plea agreement may have include language that the defendant would not appeal their case, but there may still be ways to appeal the sentence even after a defendant waives an appeal.
Seeking a direct appeal usually begins with filing a “notice of appeal.” There is only a short time limit of 10 days to file a notice of appeal after entry of judgment or entry of the order being appealed. However, the notice of appeal only needs to notify the court of the defendant's intent to appeal the sentence or conviction, and is not the same as the appellate brief or argument.
A direct appeal will go up the U.S. Court of Appeals in the district where the trial court case was heard. The appellate court will then review the notice of appeal, the facts and record of evidence from the trial court, and legal basis for the lower court's decision. This is not like the trial court process, and the appellate court generally does not make determinations of fact. Instead, the judges will examine each side's legal arguments given the facts in the trial court record.
The defendant's attorney will file a brief, which lays out their case, including a statement of facts, and their legal argument supported by case law, statutes, or other legal authority. The government attorney will then file a response to the defendant's brief. Finally, the defendant will file a reply to the government's response.
The appellate court will review the briefs, and come to a decision. In some cases, they will do so by only reviewing the included documents. However, if there is some question of fact or law that the judges seek clarification on, they may allow oral argument. Finally, the appellate court will issue a decision, to either affirm or deny the appeal.
Even if an appeal is denied, a defendant may have other ways to challenge their conviction, such as a § 2255 motion, or through challenging the length of the sentence. If you have any questions about the appellate process, talk to your federal criminal defense attorney.
Common Issues Raised on Appeal
There are a number of possible issues which can be raised on direct appeal, depending on the facts of the case, and how the judge handled the matter. One of the most common grounds for a direct appeal has to do with whether the judge improperly admitted evidence, or improperly excluded evidence. The evidence which the jury does or does not see can have a major impact on their ultimate verdict.
Other legal grounds for a direct appeal include improper jury instructions, sentencing errors, lack of sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict, jury misconduct, or misconduct by the prosecutor.
Direct Appeals Attorneys
If you or a loved one is facing serious federal criminal charges, you need an attorney who will fight for you from Day 1, using any means possible to challenge the criminal charges, conviction, and sentence, including through direct appeal. Your experienced federal defense attorney will review your case, identify all possible and alternative defenses, answer any questions you have, and represent you in court. It is important to have the right lawyers on your side, who have experience winning for their clients in federal court.