Lost at Trial? WIN on Appeal.

The folks that regularly call my law office in New Orleans looking for help with their federal criminal appeal all have the same question – how do we win on appeal?

Obviously, each case is different so how you win your federal criminal appeal will be unique to your case and to how your federal criminal appeals lawyer handles it. Nevertheless, there are a few key things anyone can learn that will help them increase their chances of winning on appeal.

This is, after all, your second chance at justice.

I regularly handle federal criminal appeals at the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals, which covers all federal appeals coming out of the district courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. So if your federal case was in any of those three states, please keep reading!

1. You Have the Right to Appeal But Make Sure You Protect it.

If you’re convicted of a federal crime, you have a right to a federal criminal appeal pursuant to 18 U.S.C 3742. Your federal criminal appeal, if properly protected and exercised as I’ll explain below, will then be considered by the federal court of appeals that sits above your district court (like the U.S. Fifth Circuit that reviews criminal convictions out of Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi that I mentioned above).

Your right to an appeal guarantees that your case will be reviewed by an entirely separate appeals court, with an entirely different set of judges, to see if everything was done correctly. Getting a new set of judges to review your case can sometimes make all the difference, especially if the district court judge in your case has consistently gotten it wrong in your criminal case. That is what the right to a federal criminal appeal is all about – the chance to correct an injustice.

However, you can waive (meaning forfeit or give up) your right to an appeal. This most often happens when someone pleads guilty. As part of most federal plea agreements, the Government requires you to waive your right to a federal criminal appeal as part of the plea agreement. There are exceptions to this scenario that I’ll cover later in a separate post.

But for now just know that if a jury convicted you, the silver lining is that your right to federal criminal appeal is fully intact. The other common way you can lose your right to appeal is by missing important appeal deadlines.

2. Know your Deadlines

Many people are often surprised to learn that for a federal criminal appeal, you only have 14 days to file your notice of appeal under Rule 4(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. That’s 14 days from the day you were sentenced generally in criminal cases (for civil appeals, like when one person is suing another, you get 30 days). Does this mean you only have 14 days to appeal your whole case?

No, it doesn’t. The 14-day deadline means that you have 14 days to file what’s called your “notice of appeal,” which is your one-to-two page filing that merely documents in writing before the court that you wish to exercise your right to a federal criminal appeal. And if you don’t file this, the court can decide that you’ve forfeited your right to appeal your federal criminal conviction.

That means you’ll want to probably make sure you have hired your preferred federal criminal appeals lawyer BEFORE sentencing takes place.

3. Hire the Best Federal Criminal Appeals Attorney You Can

Just like you wouldn’t want to hire a foot doctor for your brain surgery, you do not want to hire just any attorney to handle your federal criminal appeal. You want an attorney with both the specific skill and experience to handle your federal criminal appeal. Why? Because federal criminal appeals are different types of cases that take place in front of a different type of court. Federal criminal appeals are complex, challenging, and requiring careful strategy and preparation. They are completely different from a trial or even an appeal in state court. As such, they require a completely different kind of lawyer with the right kind of skill set.

4. Prepare a Well-Written, Well-Researched Appellate Brief

This will be the job of your federal criminal appeals attorney but having a winning appellate brief is one of the keys to winning an appeal. Your appellate brief is a written document that outlines your legal argument and presents your case to the appellate court. Unlike at a trial, where live witnesses and evidence are presented in person, on appeal, almost all of the action takes place “on paper” in your appellate brief via electronic filing submission to the appeals court.

As such, your appellate brief should be well-written, concise, and organized, with a clear structure that includes an introduction, statement of the issues, argument, and conclusion. It should present a compelling and persuasive case, citing relevant legal authorities and providing supporting evidence from the trial record. A skilled criminal appellate attorney will help separate your brief from the hundreds of others that the appeals court may be reading and analyzing alongside yours.

5. Be Persistent and Patient

Federal criminal appeals can be a lengthy and complex process, and it’s important to be prepared for the uncertainty and length of time that the appeal process may take. It’s essential to be persistent and patient, as the appellate court may take months or even years to issue a decision. During this time, it’s crucial to stay in communication with your attorney, provide any additional information or documents as requested, and continue to pursue your appeal diligently.

If you’d like help with your federal criminal appeal from Louisiana, Texas, or Mississippi, give me a call at 504-577-2500 or fill out the contact form below.

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