Dallas, TX / As Texas Board of Legal Specialization-certified attorneys in the areas of Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Defense Law, at Broden & Mickelsen, we have worked on over 100 federal criminal appeals cases. Throughout our decades of combined experience as federal criminal appellate lawyers, we repeatedly come across some of the same myths about federal criminal appeals. In this article, we explain and debunk five of those myths and misconceptions – Dallas Federal Appellate Attorney

Myth #1: You can win an appeal if you simply don’t like the outcome of your case.

Many people mistakenly believe that simply being unsatisfied with the outcome of their trial is sufficient grounds to win an appeal. However, to be able to successfully appeal, you must be able to show that some aspect of your trial produced an unjust or illegal outcome, whether that is the conviction itself or the sentence that accompanies the conviction.

Myth #2: You can file an appeal at any time.

If you have been convicted of a criminal offense, you should file an appeal as soon as possible. Federal criminal appeals must be filed within fourteen days after sentencing. If you fail to meet this deadline, you are likely to be barred from appealing. If you are uncertain about whether or not appealing is a viable option or even a possibility for your case, talk to an attorney with experience handling federal criminal appeals cases.

Myth #3: Your trial lawyer should represent you during your appeal.

Another common misconception about federal criminal appeals is that defendants should stick with the same attorney or attorneys that represented them in the trial court. The reasoning behind this idea is that because your trial lawyer is familiar with the facts of your case and has a good idea of why the prosecution was successful, they’ll be able to construct a successful federal appeal.

However, the majority of criminal defense attorneys have limited experience dealing with the process of criminal appeals trials and only surface-level knowledge of the workings of the Federal courts of appeals. Furthermore, the same blind spots that your trial lawyer failed to account for in your initial trial are likely to make a reappearance in your appeal. For these reasons, it is a good idea to hire an experienced federal appellate attorney who can look at your case from a different perspective and figure out what went wrong in trial court.

Myth #4: A lost appeal is the end of the road.

If you have lost a federal criminal appeal, you still have one option left. You may be able to file a writ of certiorari, which is essentially an appeal filed with the United States Supreme Court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court will only hear between 100 and 150 cases on average each year, out of approximately 7,000 cases sent to them on an annual basis.

What Kinds of Cases Does the U.S. Supreme Court Hear?   

The Supreme Court is a federal court, which means that it only hears cases involving federal law in some respect, which includes the Constitution. These may be criminal or civil cases. The Supreme Court usually only hears cases with one or more of the following aspects:

  • Cases involving constitutional rights.
  • Cases involving unsettled areas of law.
  • Cases of great public importance with far-reaching implications.
  • Cases in which lower courts have ignored Supreme Court precedent.

Myth #5: Winning an appeal means your conviction is overturned.

Just like the journey isn’t necessarily over when you lose an appeal, there is still work to be done if you win an appeal, in most cases.

What Happens When You Win a Federal Criminal Appeal?

The outcoming of winning an appeal will depend on your case as well as the grounds on which your appeal was filed. The following are the most common outcomes of a successful federal criminal appeal:

  1. A new trial. The most common outcome of winning an appeal is for the appellate court to issue a judgement for the reversal of the trial court’s decision and order the initiation of a new trial. In this case, the slate is essentially clean and the defendant is reverted to the beginning of the criminal trial process. While it is undoubtedly stressful to have to live through a second criminal trial, an experienced criminal attorney will be able to look at the proceedings of your original trial and ensure that your defense is stronger the second time around. Furthermore, the prosecution may offer a plea agreement, which usually includes less harsh penalties than the original sentence. In cases whether the appeal was won because evidence was included in the original trial that should not have been, the prosecution may drop their charges as a result of being unable to build a strong case with the inadmissible evidence.
  2. A reversal of judgement. Another potential outcome of winning an appeal is that the court awards a reversal of judgement. This outcome is usually the result of the defense being able to show that a legal error occurred during the judgement or sentencing phase of the trial. For the defendant, this will mean that the conviction still stands, but that the sentence will be reevaluated in a new trial.
  3. An acquittal. Though this is the least common outcome of a successful appeal, it does occur on rare occasions. If the appellate court determines that evidence was insufficient to support the conviction issued by the lower court, a reversal for an acquittal may be issued. When a defendant receives an acquittal, their conviction is overturned and they cannot be tried a second time for the same offense.