Most of the time, when a defendant loses a federal criminal case, that person can appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeals. Cases then proceed through the appeals process until the court reaches a final decision.
How does the federal appeals process work?
Who can appeal?
In a criminal case, the defendant can appeal a guilty verdict. The government cannot appeal if the court finds the defendant not guilty. Either party can appeal the sentence for a guilty verdict.
How does the appeals process work?
The court begins the process by reviewing written briefs. In some cases, the court may make a decision based solely on those briefs. If not, a panel of judges may listen to oral arguments from the appellate lawyers. Usually, each side will have 15 minutes to present an argument.
Is the decision of the appellate court final?
Most courts of appeals decisions are final. However, the court may choose to send the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings. Additionally, the parties can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case; however, the Supreme Court does not accept all cases for review. Sometimes a large panel of Court of Appeals judges will review the decision of an appellate court.
The appellate process exists to provide relief for defendants who do not believe they received justice from the lower court. However, for most people, if the appellate court confirms the decision of the lower court, that is the end of the appeals process due to the small number of cases the Supreme Court accepts.