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Coconut Grove Federal Appeals Attorney

Federal appellate lawyers specializing in post-conviction relief

A conviction may seem like it is the end of the criminal court process. However, a guilty verdict automatically triggers an important opportunity for convicted defendants: the right to file an appeal. If you are looking for justice after a conviction, filing an appeal may seem like the obvious next step. However, appealing a federal trial court’s decision is not a step you should take lightly. Retaining a federal defense attorney who specializes in federal appellate cases will increase your likelihood of winning your appeal. David Joffe has more than 35 years of experience representing convicted defendants in federal appellate court. Our Coconut Grove federal appeals lawyer has the expertise to help you put your best foot forward when appealing your case.

The federal appellate court system

There are two tiers of federal appellate courts. When a defendant files an appeal after a federal trial court returns a guilty verdict, the appellate case will take place in the designated federal circuit court. Circuit courts make up the lower tier of federal appellate courts. Florida is in the 11th Circuit along with Georgia and Alabama. The 11th Circuit Court is located in Atlanta, Georgia. The location of the courthouse is generally not an issue because defendants are not required to make an appearance in court in appellate cases. Not only do the defendants not appear before the court, but in most cases, the attorneys never make an appearance before the appellate court either. Attorneys only appear before federal appellate courts when appellate judges call the lawyers to make an appearance in the courthouse to make oral arguments.

The Supreme Court is the only appellate court that is in the second and highest-ranking tier of federal appellate courts. Parties that do not win their appeal at the circuit court level may petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which allows the case to be heard by the Supreme Court. Every year, the Supreme Court grants cert to a small fraction of the case applications it receives. Cases that address important policy issues are most likely to receive cert.

The federal appeals process

After a federal trial court returns a guilty verdict, the first step in the appeals process is to file a Notice of Appeal with the designated circuit court. The Notice of Appeal must be filed within 14 days of the trial court delivering a guilty verdict. When the circuit court receives the Notice of Appeal, it will schedule the deadline by which attorneys for each side must file their appellate briefs. Beyond filing the Notice of Appeal on time, the appellate briefs are perhaps the most important documents in the appellate case. Most appeals are decided solely based on the appellate brief. Appellate courts generally only request oral arguments from the attorneys if the judges have questions. Therefore, if you are filing a federal appeal, you should choose a Coconut Grove federal criminal defense lawyer who has strong writing capabilities in addition to experience in federal appellate court.

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Federal circuit courts vs. trial courts

Most people are generally familiar with how trial courts work. The defense and the prosecution deliver opening arguments at the beginning and closing arguments at the end of the trial. Both sides introduce evidence and may call witnesses to testify on the trial record. There is usually a jury that deliberates and delivers a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty” to conclude the trial. One judge presides over the proceedings and maintains order and structure. The trial judge also makes important decisions about whether evidence is legally permissible and whether the evidence may be considered by the jury.

Appellate courts operate entirely differently. The first major difference between appellate and trial courts is each court’s purpose. Trial courts hear evidence because they are tasked with fact-finding or determining exactly what happened in a case. Appellate courts are intended to only review the trial transcript for legal errors; they do not determine what happened in a case. Because appellate courts are limited in the scope of what they are permitted to review, convicted defendants must base their appeals on an argument that arises from a legal error. Defendants do not automatically get a new trial when they file an appeal. Instead, the appeals process should be viewed as submitting a case for a technical review.

During the appeals process, attorneys do not call witnesses or introduce evidence. In most cases, the attorneys never make an opening or closing argument before the appellate court. Instead, the attorneys from each side submits an appellate brief, and the court reviews the brief. The court also reviews transcriptions from the trial court proceedings. The defense provides the trial court transcript, and both sides work together to determine exactly which portions of the trial court proceedings will become part of the official record in the appellate court.

Where trial courts have one judge, circuit courts have a panel of three judges. If the judges have questions in the process of reviewing the appellate briefs and trial court record, the appellate panel will call each attorney into the court to deliver oral arguments. Each attorney is allocated a limited amount of time to present his or her case. While the attorney is presenting, the panel of judges may interrupt and present questions, which the attorney must answer Q&A-style. At the end of the oral arguments, the attorneys return to business as usual, and the parties wait for the appellate court to issue a decision. The court may decided to:

  • affirm the trial court’s previous decision
  • reverse the trial court’s previous decision
  • remand the case back to the trial court with instructions to follow when giving the defendant a new trial

Along with the decision, the appellate court judges will also typically write their own opinions to explain the legal analysis behind the way each judge voted in determining the court’s decision. Attorneys may cite the court’s decision and the legal analysis contained within the appellate judges’ opinions in future cases.

From start to finish, the federal appeals process may take several months to more than one year. Defendants who file a federal appeal in Coconut Grove need a Florida defense attorney who is steadfast and experienced in the federal appeals process.

Legal grounds for filing a federal appeal

Successful federal appeals are generally based on the argument that the trial court made a legal error. An experienced Florida federal appeals defense attorney will narrow the defendant’s case down to the strongest issues that are most likely to be successful on appeal. Some common issues Florida federal defense attorneys appeal are:

  • jury-related errors
  • issues with evidence
  • issues with the investigation
  • excessive sentencing

When you retain a qualified Florida federal appeals lawyer, your attorney will determine which issues to include in filing your federal appeal. Having a Coconut Grove federal defense lawyer who is knowledgeable about federal case law and the appellate system can help you beat the odds and win.

Jury errors in a federal trial

The jury ultimately decides whether the verdict in a criminal court case is “guilty” or “not guilty.” Although the Constitution guarantees people who are accused of a crime the right to a trial that includes a jury, there is often a considerable gap in the jury’s understanding of the law. To bridge that gap, the judge provides instructions to the jury to help the jurors apply the laws that are applicable to the defendant’s case. Any error that involves the jury may directly affect the case outcome. Some common jury errors are:

  • jury bias
  • erroneous jury instructions
  • jury tampering
  • jury selection errors

Having a seasoned Florida federal defense lawyer working on your behalf at every stage of the criminal court process will reduce the likelihood of a jury error impacting your cases. However, in the event that there is a jury error, having the right attorney file your federal appeal may get you a more favorable outcome if the court erroneously convicts you.

Filing a federal appeal based on investigative issues

Law enforcement officers do not have free reign when it comes to investigating crimes, making arrests, and gathering evidence. Although a person may be suspected of a criminal act, the individual still has Constitutional rights. Some common violations that arise from the investigative process are:

  • failure to inform the defendant of the right to avoid self-incrimination
  • failure to inform the defendant of the right to an attorney
  • coerced confession
  • illegal traffic stops
  • illegal search
  • illegal seizure of property
  • entrapment

If the court allowed evidence that was obtained through problematic means to impact your case, contact a Florida federal defense attorney to discuss your legal options. A knowledgeable Coconut Grove federal appeals lawyer will fight to get the conviction if it was based on illegally obtained evidence.

Filing an appeal based on evidentiary problems

When introducing evidence into the official record at trial, attorneys must carefully follow specific rules. There are some types of evidence that are not permissible at trial. Some examples of reasons a court may disallow evidence to be entered into the record are:

  • the evidence is hearsay and is not a direct statement
  • the evidence does not have relevance to the trial
  • the evidence violates the defendant’s constitutional rights
  • the evidence is misleading

The federal criminal court system is not perfect. There are instances in which a defendant may be convicted based on evidence that should not have been admitted at trial. Even if your trial attorney did not challenge the admissibility of the evidence at trial, you can still file an appeal if you were convicted. Consult an experienced Coconut Grove federal appeals lawyer to determine if there are evidentiary-based grounds to appeal your case outcome.

Appealing federal sentencing

The Constitution prohibits sentencing judges from imposing penalties that are excessive in comparison to the crime. Federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines often apply to cases that involve drugs, sex offenses, and other violent crimes. These guidelines call for sentencing judges to automatically sentence convicted defendants of a minimum amount of time in prison depending on the offense. Mandatory minimum sentences are controversial because critics believe the strict guidelines eliminate judges’ ability to sentence based on the individual facts of a case. There are certain instances in which a judge may deviate from mandatory minimum sentencing. A Coconut Grove federal defense lawyer can argue on your behalf for reduced sentencing.

Aside from cases in which mandatory minimum sentencing applies, there are other instances in which a Coconut Grove federal appeals attorney would file an appeal to challenge sentencing. Some examples of cases in which an attorney is likely to directly appeal the sentence are:

  • cases that involve a defendant who is a minor
  • cases that involve a defendant who is mentally ill or insane
  • cases that involve capital punishment
  • cases in which the sentence is otherwise unreasonable
  • cases in which the sentence is unconstitutional
  • cases in which there is a sentencing error

Even if a defendant is legitimately guilty of a crime, he or she is entitled to be sentenced appropriately. Contact our Coconut Grove federal appeals lawyer if you would like to learn more about challenging a federal sentence.

Other options for post-conviction relief

There are cases in which the option to file a direct appeal is unavailable or there may be more appropriate options for other reasons. If the 14-day window to file an appeal has lapsed, we may still be able to leverage other forms of post-conviction relief. Our talented team will advise you regarding your legal options and help you make informed decisions on how to continue the fight for justice.

Coconut Grove attorney for federal appeals

The federal appeals process is one that should not be taken lightly if you want to improve the odds of winning. David Joffe is a leading federal appeals attorney in Coconut Grove. We provide legal defense services to defendants in federal cases throughout South Florida. Contact Joffe Law to learn more about our track record of excellence or to schedule a case evaluation.

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