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Federal Appeals Lawyer South Beach

Federal criminal attorneys specializing
in federal appeals and post-conviction relief

Defendants and their attorneys spend months preparing for the trial process in hopes of avoiding a conviction. Although a conviction may seem like an unfavorable end to the trial process, for many convicted defendants, it marks the beginning of another process. After a federal trial court announces a conviction, the defendant’s right to file an appeal is automatically triggered. The federal appeals process is highly technical. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of appealed federal trial court decisions are reversed or remanded by a federal appellate court. Those statistics may seem daunting, but you can improve your chances of winning by choosing the right attorney. South Beach federal appeals attorney David J. Joffe has appealed cases at the federal level for decades.

Understanding federal appellate courts

The federal court system has two levels of appellate courts. If a defendant is convicted by a trial court, he or she may file an appeal with a federal circuit court. Circuit courts make up the federal system’s first appellate level. Currently there are 13 circuit courts in the United States. Each circuit corresponds to a geographic region that typically consists of a few states or U.S. territories. Florida, Georgia, and Alabama make up the 11th Circuit. The 11th Circuit Court is located in Atlanta.

The second level of appellate courts in the federal system consists only of one court: the U.S. Supreme Court. Parties that want to have their case reviewed by the Supreme Court must first request a writ of certiorari to appeal the circuit court’s decision. In addition to cases that go up on appeal from the federal circuit courts, the parties in state court cases may apply for certiorari if their case has been decided on appeal by the state’s highest-ranking appellate court.

A defendant’s distance from the circuit court’s location is not an issue because when a case goes on appeal, the defendant is not required to travel to court. In fact, in most cases, the attorneys are not requested to make an appearance before the court. However, in a very small percentage of cases, federal appellate courts request the attorneys to travel to the court to make oral arguments. Receiving a request for oral arguments does not automatically indicate that the appellate court will overturn the trial court’s decision. Nevertheless, being scheduled for oral arguments at a federal circuit court is generally viewed positively because federal appellate courts generally do not overturn a trial court’s decision without requesting both parties to appear before the court to argue their cases.

The federal appellate court process

The first step in the federal appeals process is to file a Notice of Appeal with the designated federal circuit court. Although errors may occur at any stage in the trial process, the defendant must wait until the trial court enters a guilty verdict before the defense may file an appeal. Once the trial court announces the guilty verdict, defendants who want to file an appeal must do so within 14 days.

FILING AN APPELLATE BRIEF

When the circuit court receives the Notice of Appeal, the court will create a schedule and inform the attorneys for each side of the deadline by which they must file their respective appellate briefs. Aside from filing the Notice of Appeal on time, the appellate brief is the most important part of a federal criminal appeal. Convicted defendants should enlist the help of an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who has a successful record when it comes to filing federal appeals. Successful federal appeals lawyers know the  appeals process, and they have impeccable persuasive writing skills. The court’s decision will mostly depend on the strength of the appellate brief.

When the court receives the appellate briefs from each side, the panel of judges reviews the briefs. If the judges have questions, they will schedule oral arguments and request the attorneys to appear before the court. If the judges don’t have questions, they will issue a ruling based on the appellate briefs.

FEDERAL TRIAL COURT VS. APPELLATE COURT REVIEW

Trial courts conduct the thorough process of fact-finding to determine what actually happened in a case. During the fact-finding process, the defense and prosecution may call witnesses, introduce evidence, examine the witnesses, and raise objections if something appears to be unfair or unconstitutional. After each side makes its closing arguments, the jury deliberates and examines the facts each side presents. When the jury reaches a decision, it returns to the courtroom to announce its findings.

The appellate format differs dramatically from the trial court process. Instead of one judge presiding over the proceedings, a panel of three judges presides over appeals at the federal circuit court level. Appellate courts are not permitted to engage in fact-finding. Therefore, the defense and prosecution are not permitted to call witnesses or introduce new evidence. However, if the defense requests a new trial because new evidence has been found, the appellate court may send the case back to the trial court to allow the defense to introduce the new evidence in the appropriate venue. Instead of fact-finding, appellate courts may only review a case for legal errors.

Because federal appellate courts do not decide substantive facts, they are limited to reviewing the trial court’s transcripts. The defense is responsible for obtaining records from trial court proceedings and providing it to the appellate court. However, the defense and the prosecution decide together what should be included in the record for the appellate court to review.

ORAL ARGUMENTS IN FEDERAL APPELLATE COURTS

When a federal appellate court requests oral arguments from the attorneys, the format is nothing like the trial court format with which most of us are familiar. Each attorney receives a very limited amount of time to present his or her argument. During each attorney’s presentation, the panel of judges may interrupt the presenting attorney and ask questions Q&A-style. At the end of the oral argument, each attorney will return home and await a decision from the appellate court. From the day a South Beach federal crime defense attorney files a Notice of Appeal to the day the appellate court announces a decision, the appellate process can take several months or longer.

POTENTIAL OUTCOMES OF A FEDERAL APPEAL

Appellate courts do not decide whether a defendant is innocent or guilty. Instead, the court’s decision is based on whether or not the panel of judges found an error in the trial court’s proceedings. If the appellate court finds that an error had a material effect on the defendant’s case outcome, the appellate court will typically reverse the trial court’s decision. If the appellate court finds that the trial court’s error directly resulted in a wrongful conviction, the reversal will result in an overturned conviction. In some cases, the appellate court will “reverse” the trial court’s decision, but send the case back to the trial court with instructions for the defendant to receive a new trial to correct the error. When the appellate court has instructions for the trial court to correct a legal error, the trial court’s decision is “reversed and remanded.” In most cases, the appellate court decides to uphold the trial court’s decision. In this case, the appellate court’s decision is to “affirm” the trial court’s decision.

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Grounds for a federal appeal

Any convicted defendant may file a federal appeal. However, a successful federal appeal attorney will narrow the defendant’s case down to only the strongest arguments for having the trial court’s decision reversed. Some common issues South Beach federal appeals attorneys focus on include:

  • jury errors
  • problems with the investigation
  • problems with the prosecution’s evidence
  • excessive sentencing

An experienced South Beach federal appeals attorney can determine the strongest issues in your case that may be the best arguments to include in your appeal. By choosing an attorney who thoroughly understands how to succeed in federal appellate court, you will greatly increase the likelihood of winning your appeal.

JURY ERROS DURING FEDERAL CRIMINAL TRIALS

The jury is one of the most important components in the federal trial process. Nevertheless, there are opportunities throughout the trial process for errors to occur with the jury. Significant jury errors can directly impact the fairness of the trial court’s verdict. Some common errors that occur with the jury are:

  • jury selection errors
  • biased jury
  • wrong jury instructions
  • jury tampering

Most defendants are unfamiliar with the intricacies that are a part of the jury process in a criminal trial. Any element of bias in the jury selection process, the instructions, or among the jurors can result in a defendant being convicted of a crime contrary to the law and the evidence. When facing a federal charge, defendants need an attorney who will vigilantly fight for the defendant’s rights during the jury selection process. Experienced South Beach federal defense lawyers more readily detect signs of bias among the jurors and will speak up on their clients’ behalf.

Having an attorney who is well-versed in the areas of law that apply to your case will allow your attorney to recognize even the most subtle errors in the instructions jurors receive to help the jurors apply the law to your case. If you believe your attorney may have been ineffective when it comes to monitoring your case for problems with the jury, you can choose a more effective attorney and appeal the trial court’s decision.

CHALLENGING INVESTIGATIVE ISSUES ON APPEAL

Sometimes the problems with a criminal case begin before a case goes to trial. Law enforcement agencies are required to comply with the Constitution and other federal rules when gathering evidence. For example, the police must communicate the Miranda rights to an individual when making an arrest. The Constitution prohibits law enforcement agents from using force to obtain a confession. When police make a traffic stop, the stop must be conducted for a legally valid reason. Law enforcement agencies may only search private property if they have obtained consent from the person who owns or controls the property or if a court has issued a warrant. When the police have a search warrant, their search must be limited to the area identified in the search warrant. Any departure from the federal rules that govern police investigations may result in an appealable trial error. In most cases, the defendant’s attorney will object to evidence that is the result of an illegal investigation being admitted at trial. However, courts sometimes mistakenly allow the admission of evidence despite legal errors in the investigation.

APPEALING THE ADMISSIBILITY OF EVIDENCE

Not only is the federal government required to legally obtain evidence, but the evidence must also meet certain standards to be admitted into the record. Some reasons defense attorneys commonly challenge the admissibility of evidence are:

  • the evidence is hearsay and was not a first-hand statement
  • the evidence is irrelevant to the trial
  • the evidence violates the defendant’s constitutional rights
  • the evidence is misleading

Criminal defendants cannot be convicted based on inadmissible evidence. Nevertheless, courts do sometimes make mistakes. In other instances, a defense attorney may miss the opportunity to challenge evidence that should not be admitted at trial. Fortunately, the defense may challenge the trial court’s admission of inadmissible evidence on appeal.

Contacting a South Beach lawyer for federal appeals

The federal appeals process can be intimidating even for some experienced lawyers. When appealing a conviction, we recommend entrusting your case to a lawyer who has demonstrated success at the federal appellate level. David Joffe has more than 35 years of experience fighting for his clients’ justice in the federal criminal system. The dedicated professionals at our firm will give your case the attention it deserves and fight for an outcome that is in your favor. To learn more about our track record in the federal appeals process, call Joffe Law, P.A. today. A member of our team will schedule a case evaluation.

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