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Federal Criminal Direct Appeals

Federal appeals are complex, but the basics are easy to understand. Here we'll provide you with an overview of the federal appeals process and discuss the main aspects that you should know.

  1. What is a Federal Appeal? A federal appeal is a request made by a party in a case to a higher court, the Circuit Court of Appeals, to review the decision of a lower court, the United States District Court. The purpose of an appeal is to ensure that the law was applied correctly in the original trial. Appeals focus on legal issues rather than the facts of the case.

  2. The Appellate Process: The appellate process usually starts with the filing of a notice of appeal, which is a formal document that informs the courts and the other party that the decision will be challenged. The notice of appeal must be filed within 14 days after the judgment. After filing the notice, the appellant (the person appealing the decision) needs to submit a brief that outlines their arguments on why the lower court's decision was incorrect. The other party, called the appellee, then has an opportunity to respond with their own brief, defending the lower court's decision.

  3. Oral Arguments and Decision: In some cases, circuit courts may hold oral arguments, where the lawyers for both sides present their arguments and answer questions from the judges. After considering the briefs and oral arguments, the appellate court will issue a written decision that can either affirm the lower court's ruling, reverse it, or send it back to the lower court for further proceedings. This written decision is called an opinion.

  4. Further Appeals: If a party is still unsatisfied with the appellate court's decision, they may try to take their case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which is the highest court in the federal system with a petition for writ of certiorari. However, the Supreme Court hears only a very limited number of cases each year, and it is not guaranteed to accept a case for review. If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, the decision of the circuit court becomes final.

  5. Why Federal Appeals Matter: Federal appeals are crucial in preserving the rights of the accused, and developing the law favorable to human freedom. They provide an opportunity for parties to challenge decisions they believe are incorrect and for appellate courts to clarify and interpret the law. This process helps maintain consistency and predictability in the legal system, making it an essential part of our justice system.


Understanding the federal appeals process is essential for those interested in the legal system, as it serves as a critical check and balance within the courts. If you or a loved one has been convicted or is facing conviction for a federal crime and may need a direct appeal, call Bennett & Bennett immediately

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