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Federal Criminal Appeals

Updated on March 21, 2011


When a defendant is convicted and sentenced to a crime in federal court she may have the right to appeal both the conviction and the sentence to a higher court. There is a time period within which the appeal process must be initiated. The time limit for filing an appeal is crucial, as failure to timely file may waive the defendant's rights to appeal.


The United States Code affords an absolute and automatic right to appeal a conviction or sentence. The right to appeal is a right to a direct appeal to the United States Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals will review the proceedings from the trial court to make sure they were conducted properly. The right to appeal is such an important and fundamental part of federal law that a defendant's conviction is not considered final until the Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction on appeal.

A defendant's conviction pursuant to a guilty plea agreement or trial may be appealed. A sentence may be appealed as well but only under certain conditions. The federal courts use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines when determining a defendant's sentence. A sentence may be appealed if it is handed down subsequent to a finding of guilty at trial if the judge failed to give the defendant a requested downward departure from the guidelines and he did not do so because he mistakenly believed he did not have the authority to do so. If a defendant accepted a plea agreement then she may only appeal the sentence if the sentence she ultimately received was higher than the sentence agreed upon by the defendant and prosecutor in the plea agreement.


An appeal does not give the defendant another chance to convince a court that he is innocent. The purpose of an appeal is to allow the defendant an opportunity to have a higher court review what the lower court did. Basically the appellate court is looking for errors committed by the trial court. The error committed must have affected the outcome of the case-a harmless error will not result in a reversal or remand. Common examples of errors that may result in a reversal or remand include evidence that was improperly admitted, jury misconduct or insufficiency of the evidence.


An appeal must be timely filed in order to preserve the right. In federal court, a notice of appeal must be filed within 10 days after the judgment of conviction is entered. The appeal is filed with the clerk of court where the defendant was convicted. During the defendant's sentencing hearing the judge will ask the defendant if he wishes to appeal the conviction. If he indicates that he wishes to appeal but does not have the funds then a federal public defender may be appointed at that time to handle the appeal. If, for any reason, a defendant fails to file the notice of appeal within the 10 day time period, he may move the court for leave to file a late appeal within the 30 days following the expiration of the 10 day time period.


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    • Wendy S. Wilmoth profile image

      Wendy S. Wilmoth 6 years ago from Kansas

      This is good information. You might consider citations.