Basics of Federal Criminal Appeals: Part I

If you have been convicted of a federal crime in West Texas (such as a drug related crime or a crime like money laundering or illegal possession/use of a firearm), the law allows you to appeal your conviction to another court. This post and a subsequent one will explain the basics of federal criminal appeals.

If you have entered a guilty plea or you have gotten convicted at trial, you may appeal your sentence to a Federal Court of Appeals. These appellate courts are divided geographically by numbers into “Circuits”. For instance, West Texas appeals go to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Different rules govern federal appeals. Instead of being called a “defendant,” you will now be called an “appellant.” You will not go before the court. Your federal criminal defense attorney may present oral arguments — but not necessarily. The appellate court will review the transcript of your trial, but you cannot get new evidence admitted. If you don’t have money to pay for your appeal, in many cases you can have counsel appointed to represent you.

What Happens on Appeal

Instead of reviewing your guilt or innocence, the appellate court analyzes whether legal errors or other mistakes occurred during your trial. If your attorney can prove that mistakes were made – and that they impacted your sentencing or prejudiced the judge or jury – your case can be sent back down to the lower court to be retried. Or the charges can even be completely dismissed. If the reviewing court finds that an error was made in the sentencing, a “resentencing” may be in order.

Issues Your Attorney Can Raise on Appeal

Your West Texas federal criminal attorney can argue that certain evidence should not have been included – (e.g. the evidence got admitted improperly and thus shouldn’t have been considered.) Your attorney can appeal the pretrial rulings the judge made, contest how jury selection was done, and object to the formulation of your sentence.

Even assuming that you can establish that the lower court made a legal mistake doesn’t mean you will get a retrial or that your sentencing will be reconsidered. Essentially, the appellate court needs to be convinced that the error prejudiced the case or impacted your sentencing. If the error didn’t have an effect, proving it won’t help you.

That said, Constitutional errors have more bearing than mere procedural errors. If you can show that an error of constitutional dimensions occurred, you would have a better chance for reversal. The government has the onus to prove that such an error was harmless.

Whether you have just been arrested for a federal crime (such as possession, distribution, or selling illegal narcotics), or you want help appealing a lower court decision that you thought was unfair or too harsh, connect with a reputable West Texas federal criminal defense attorney (ideally someone who is Board Certified) to help you design and execute a principled appeal.