Federal Criminal Appeal Lawyer in Columbia, SC
Elizabeth has nearly 20 years’ experience representing clients in all manner of criminal charges including white collar crimes and violent felonies. She has represented clients in the South Carolina appellate courts, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. She is also licensed in the Second, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal. Elizabeth handles directs appeals and petitions for writs of certiorari.
She is admitted to practice in the Federal District Court of South Carolina, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.
If you have been convicted of a crime after trial or guilty plea in federal court and believe you have grounds for a federal criminal appeal, first you must file a notice of appeal within 14 days of the conviction.
Call our office as soon as possible after your conviction for a consultation about your case, so we can start the process of ordering transcripts, reviewing the evidence and testimony, researching the legal issues in your case, and preparing your appellate briefs.
What is a Federal Criminal Appeal?
A federal criminal appeal, also called a “direct appeal,” is our chance to persuade the Circuit Court of Appeals that your trial, plea, or sentencing judge made legal mistakes that require reversal of your conviction (or a resentencing, in some cases).
Appeals are not like a trial or other proceedings in the lower court, because:
- You cannot introduce new evidence;
- You cannot call witnesses;
- Your case will be heard by a panel of judges rather than a single judge; and
- The facts of your case are limited to the testimony and evidence contained in the “record on appeal,” which includes the transcripts from the trial court and any evidence that was introduced at your trial (or sentencing hearing).
Our job is to examine the record in your case, identify the mistakes made by the trial court, research the legal issues that I find, and present those errors to the court of appeals in the most persuasive way possible so they will order a new trial or a new sentencing hearing.
What are Appellate Briefs in a Federal Criminal Appeal?
After receiving the transcripts and investigating your case, we file what is called an “opening brief,” which points out the legal errors to the circuit court of appeals, the law that supports our position, and why the court of appeals should overturn your conviction or sentence.
The government then files a “response brief,” which explains to the court of appeals why the government disagrees. Then, we have the opportunity to file a “reply brief,” where we respond to the government’s arguments.
In some cases, the Court will ask for “oral argument,” where your attorney will appear in person and argue your case to the Court of Appeals. In other cases, the Court will simply decide the issues “on the briefs” without oral argument.
What is Preservation of Evidence and How Will it Affect My Federal Criminal Appeal?
On appeal, you are limited to the evidence and testimony contained in the record, and you can only appeal an issue that was “preserved for appeal” in the lower court.
How do you preserve an issue for appeal?
Your attorney must have objected at the time the issue arose during your trial or sentencing hearing and must have stated the grounds for the objection, but there may be additional requirements for issue preservation depending on the circumstances.
If your attorney objects, states the grounds for the objection, and the trial court denies the objection, in most cases that is enough to preserve the issue for appeal – there is an “adverse ruling” by the court that is appealable after the trial.
But, what if your attorney objects to prejudicial testimony and the trial court sustains the objection?
You win, no problem, right? Except, the jury has already heard the testimony and you cannot “un-ring the bell.” Even though the judge sustained the objection, the testimony heard by the jury may prejudice your trial and result in an unfair conviction.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to “move to strike” the testimony after the court sustains the objection, request that the court instruct the jurors to disregard the testimony, and move for a mistrial. When the judge denies your attorney’s motions, you then have an adverse ruling that is appealable.
In some limited cases, the Court may be able to review an issue that was not objected to, but under a less deferential standard of review called “plain error.”
What is a Notice of Appeal in Federal Court?
You must file a “notice of appeal” within 14 days of your conviction, or you lose your right to appeal.
It’s a short, simple document that puts the district court, prosecutor, and court of appeals on notice that you are appealing the conviction or sentence, and then the longer, more complex appellate briefs will be filed later.
If you retain our office quickly, we can file the notice of appeal for you. You should not wait, however – you should have your trial attorney file the notice of appeal for you or file the notice of appeal yourself if you do not think our office will be retained in time to file it on your behalf.
How Long Will My Appeal Take?
It is impossible to say exactly how long your federal criminal appeal will take. Once all briefs are filed, the court of appeals may “decide the case on the briefs,” request further briefing, or schedule oral arguments.
After the Court has received all appellate briefs and heard oral arguments, there is no predicting how long it will take them to issue a decision, but it is common for a federal criminal appeal to take a year or longer from filing until we receive a decision.
How Much Will a Federal Criminal Appeal Cost?
Federal criminal appeals are not inexpensive, but the cost may vary based on the experience of your federal criminal appellate lawyer, the length of your trial, and the issues that are being appealed.
You will be responsible for expenses like the filing fees and the cost of transcripts, as well as the time that it takes us to review, research, prepare, and argue your case to the court of appeals.
To find out what the cost of your federal criminal appeal will be and what to expect, call or email me as soon as possible for a consultation.
Should I File a Federal Criminal Appeal?
The first thing that you will need to consider is whether you should file a federal criminal appeal. In many cases, it may be clear that you have appellate issues and nothing to lose. In other cases, there may be other considerations like:
- If you appeal your sentence asking for a lower sentence, the government may then file a cross-appeal asking for a higher sentence; or
- If you win your appeal, you may be facing another trial and the possibility of a greater sentence if you are convicted again.
On the other hand, a successful appeal based on the admission of evidence may result in that evidence being suppressed at your retrial, increasing your chance of an acquittal. Or, in some cases, a successful appeal could mean a directed verdict or dismissal of your charges…
What Happens if I Win My Federal Criminal Appeal?
If you win your federal criminal appeal, the result will depend on the issues we raised on appeal. For example:
- The appellate court could order a directed verdict, which means your case will be over;
- The appellate court could order a new trial (the most common result), which means you go back to square one and retry your case – this time, without the legal errors that were the basis of your appeal; or
- You could be granted a new sentencing hearing – which could result in a lighter sentence depending on the circumstances.
What Happens if I Lose My Federal Criminal Appeal?
If you lose your appeal to the circuit court of appeals, that is not necessarily the end of your case. Your next steps may be:
- Filing a motion to rehear the case;
- Filing a motion for “rehearing en banc” – asking all of the judges on the circuit court of appeals to hear your case, instead of the normal three-judge panel;
- Requesting that the US Supreme Court hear your case (a long shot, but appropriate in some cases); or
- A 28 USC Section 2255 motion for habeas corpus, or post-conviction relief.
Federal Criminal Appeal Lawyer in Columbia, SC
If you have been convicted of a crime in federal court, whether it was following trial or a guilty plea, you may have grounds for a federal criminal appeal.
For more information, call us at (803) 331-3421 or send us an email to set up a consultation about your case.