Federal Appeals Lawyer in Fort Myers
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Dedicated defense attorneys go the extra mile to acquittals for their clients. Sometimes federal courts send defendants to jail or prison, or they may impose hefty fines when the case outcome should have differed. Fortunately, defendants have recourse to challenge things that may have led to an unfavorable verdict. Defendants may file a direct appeal if they disagree with a conviction issued by a federal or state trial court. The federal appeals process allows civil and criminal court defendants to challenge errors that led to the defendant’s dissatisfaction with the court’s ruling. Fort Myers federal appeals attorneys are available to advise and represent people who would like to appeal the outcome of their case.
When can defendants file an appeal in criminal court?
Federal law allows criminal court defendants to appeal a guilty verdict. However, the prosecution is generally never allowed to appeal an acquittal. Defendants are permitted to file an appeal on the following grounds:
- there was an issue with the court proceedings
- there was an issue with the manner in which law the court applied
- there was an issue with the manner in which the court applied the law
Filing an appeal effectively triggers a review of the actions the trial court took in adjudicating the defendant’s case. There are several specific reasons a defendant may file an appeal. Some common reasons include:
- lack of sufficient evidence to support the verdict
- improperly submitted evidence
- incorrect jury instructions
- juror misconduct
- ineffective assistance of counsel
- constitutional violation
The court may overturn the trial court’s verdict if the issue raised in the appeal would have affected the outcome of the case. If the appellate court finds the issue to be immaterial, the trial court’s ruling will likely stand.
Terminology in Fort Myers federal appeals cases
To initiate the appeals process, the defendant or the defendant’s attorney must file a written argument called an appellate brief. In the brief, the defense lays out its case. Appellate courts often opt to base their decisions on written briefs without inviting the parties to make oral statements. Therefore, an appellate brief can be very detailed and lengthy.
During the appellate process, the terms “defense” and “prosecution” are dropped. The defense — the side that is petitioning the appellate court to appeal the trial court’s findings–is referred to as the petitioner, and the prosecution is referred to as the respondent. Other words used for the petitioner and respondent are the “appellant” and the “appellee,” respectively.
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Differences between trial courts and appellate courts
In federal criminal cases, the original trial during which the defendant faces criminal charges takes place at a federal district court. The federal district court is a type of trial court. Federal appeals are heard by a federal circuit court. There are currently 12 U.S. Circuit Courts that hear federal appeals. Each circuit corresponds to a regional group of states. Washington D.C. has its own circuit as the district comprises the U.S. capital and the headquarters of many federal agencies. Federal appeals in Florida are filed at the 11th Circuit Court. Georgia and Alabama are also in the 11th Circuit.
Defendants who file an appeal will have their case heard by a panel of judges at an appellate court. Trial courts hear the entirety of evidence, witnesses, open arguments, and cross-examinations. In contrast, appeals courts only decide the legal errors identified in the petitioner’s appellate brief that caused the trial court that affected the defendant’s case outcome. Therefore, appeals courts do not retry the original case. Appellate courts are not courts of record. Therefore, there are no court reporters, witnesses, or juries present at the court of appeals. Evidentiary documents entered into the record by the trial court may be reviewed by an appellate court. However, in reviewing the trial court’s decision, appellate courts do not review new evidence that has not been previously introduced at the original trial.
How the appeals process works
If a defendant wants to appeal a conviction, his or her attorney may file a notice of appeal to start the appellate process. The appellate court will create a schedule to inform the defendant’s attorney of when the appellate brief is due. Next, the attorney writes the appellate brief, which is the most critical and comprehensive part of the case. The appeals court may hold oral arguments if the judges have questions. Oral arguments are governed by a very structured process that usually does not allow the parties more than 30 minutes each to present their arguments.
Decisions on the briefs
Appellate courts decide most cases “on the briefs,” meaning attorneys for the petitioner and respondent do not appear before the court to make oral arguments. Therefore, a federal appeals case requires the support of a Fort Myers criminal defense attorney who has strong writing skills and the ability to present a compelling case without physically making an appearance. In the American legal system, previous court decisions generally govern decisions made in present cases unless there is a reason for the present court. Therefore, appellants require the professional expertise of a defense attorney who has impeccable research skills and knowledge of past court cases on related subject matter to support the appellant’s argument.
Oral arguments on appeal
When making an argument at the appellate level, defense attorneys generally prefer the opportunity to present a face-to-face oral argument before the court. Appearing before the court allows defense attorneys a valuable opportunity to answer questions the panel of judges may have. When presenting the appellant’s case in person, attorneys may utilize visual and vocal techniques to punctuate their arguments and leave more of a lasting impression on the judges. One of the most important things a criminal defense attorney can do to encourage the appellate court to request an oral argument is to write a thought-provoking brief that raises important legal questions.
Appellate court decisions
There are several ways an appellate court can decide. The results of an appeal can be any of the following:
- affirmed: the appellate court upholds the previous court’s decision
- reversed: the appellate court disagrees with the previous court’s ruling and overturns its decision
- vacated: the appellate court overturns the lower court’s decision because the decision was based on a legal principle that is no longer applicable
- remanded: the appellate court sends the case back to the lower court
Attorneys often challenge multiple issues within a case. Therefore, an appellate court may be required to make separate decisions on each issue. Therefore, a single case can have issues that are affirmed, reversed, vacated, or remanded by the appellate court. The appeals process can be very lengthy as a case may be sent back and forth between the lower court and the appellate court to work out different issues.
Winning a federal appeal
Winning a federal appeal does not necessarily mean the case is over, and the defendant is free to go. In a small percentage of cases, appeals courts completely reverse the trial court’s findings and overturn the guilty verdict, resulting in acquittal. However, most appeals assert trial errors that lead to the defendant facing the same charges in a brand new trial. Although getting a new trial is a victory, winning the appeal places the defendant back into the position he or she was in after being charged. In effect, the criminal court process begins all over again. In response to the appellate court ordering a new trial, several things may happen:
- the prosecution may offer a new plea deal
- the government may decide not to pursue the case a second time
- the government may proceed with the new trial, and the process starts over from the beginning
A Fort Myers federal appeals attorney understands the possible outcomes and advises his or her client accordingly. In most cases, winning on appeal offers some benefit. Nevertheless, the defendant should be informed of the possibility of lengthy timelines and the potential outcomes he or she can reasonably expect.
Losing on appeal
All is not lost if the petitioner loses a direct appeal in federal court. In fact, filing an appeal is the beginning of the post-conviction process. There are often several other appeals and motions a defense attorney can file after a loss on a direct appeal.
Challenging a federal appellate court decision
There are two instances in which an attorney may challenge a federal appeals court’s decision to request a review within the same court. These two instances are 1)when the appellate court’s decision is in direct conflict with legal precedent or if the court’s decision conflicts with the decision another circuit court made on a case that raises the same issue. If the circuit court reviews the opinion, the case will go before a full panel of judges instead of returning to the original appellate panel, which typically consists of three judges. If either party is unsatisfied with the federal circuit court’s decision, either may petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest-ranking appeals court in the U.S. Petitioners may petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their case after a federal circuit court affirms the trial court’s decision. Parties who petition the court are not entitled to have the Court review their case. The Supreme Court reviews all petitions and grants writs of certiorari to the cases it decides to review. Supreme Court decisions differ from federal circuit court decisions because they set the standard by which all other courts interpret the law. Therefore, all other courts apply Supreme Court rulings in all future cases that raise the same legal issue.
People who are accused of a crime have constitutional rights. From traffic stops to arrests, police interrogations, and court proceedings, the federal government must respect the rights of the accused. Unfortunately, these constitutional protections are sometimes overstepped. Obtaining an experienced Fort Myers criminal defense lawyer is the best way to protect your constitutional rights. It is never too early to seek legal counsel. People who are under investigation are entitled to retain legal counsel and have legal counsel present during every conversation with law enforcement. In some cases, a defendant may not retain adequate legal counsel until the federal government announces formal criminal charges or even after conviction. Even in these situations, getting the right lawyer on the case can change the outcome. A Florida defense attorney who has a proven track record of successfully winning federal appeals can provide the expertise and resources that are often necessary to have a federal trial court decision overturned.
Contacting a Fort Myers federal appeals attorney
The first step to winning a federal appeal is to contact a federal defense attorney like Joffe Law, P.A. Our Fort Myers federal appeals defense lawyer has the knowledge and experience you need on your side. We know the federal appeals process inside out. Our team will be available to answer your questions at every step. You will feel informed and well-supported as we navigate the complex federal appeals process on your behalf. Contact us today to receive a free case evaluation. Our Florida defense attorney will carefully evaluate the facts of your case. We will determine which legal issues within your case may improve the likelihood of winning on appeal. Our attorney will also help you feel prepared for the appeals process by keeping you informed about how the process works and providing professional insight on what you can possibly expect at every turn.
Let us leverage our resources and expertise to help you obtain a more favorable outcome in your case. We are dedicated to protecting the rights of the accused. Call us today to receive the effective legal representation you deserve.