Federal Supreme Court Appellate Defense Lawyer - Navigating the Appeals Process

A court room where a Federal Supreme Court Appellate Defense Lawyer will go to support their client.

What Does a Federal Supreme Court Appellate Defense Attorney Do?

When you’re facing a federal conviction, the appellate process is your next battleground. Your best bet will be hiring a federal supreme court appellate defense lawyer that specializes in federal appeals. The appeals process is not just a second chance to argue your case; it’s a highly specialized field that requires creative thinking, a deep understanding of federal laws and procedures, and has steep consequences for those who don’t have a prepared team at their side. A federal appellate attorney like those found at Chapman Law Group can identify legal errors made during the trial, craft compelling arguments to challenge those errors, and present your case in the most effective manner before the appellate judges. Our firm has been around for over 35 years, and the skills and expertise we have honed are essential for navigating federal appellate law. This is especially true for those in high profile cases, including physicians, doctors, and others fighting healthcare fraud charges.

In this article we list out everything you need to know to help make you more informed about the appellate process form start to finish, including how to potentially reduce your sentence post conviction, and why you should put your trust in specialized appellate attorneys like those at Chapman Law Group, when battling it out in the courtroom. We’ll start with the time you have to file an appeal, then move on to the three pillars of the appellate process, the “Writ of Certiorari”, the “Appellate Brief”, and the “Oral Arguments.”

Table of Contents

How Much Time Do I Have to File a Criminal Appeal?

Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b)(1)(A) governs this time period and it differs greatly from that of the procedures governing state appeals. Generally, after you have been convicted you have 14 days from the date of the conviction to file a notice of an appeal with the federal circuit court of appeals in your jurisdiction. It is important to note that federal appellate courts tend to be pretty strict with deadlines and even if you are one day late in filing your brief you risk your appeal being entirely dismissed.

Traditionally, if you did not execute an appellate waiver with a plea agreement, your attorney should file a claim of appeal to preserve your appeal.

What Are Grounds for an Appeal Resulting in an Overturned Conviction?

It is important to remember an appeal is not a retrial of your case. Usually, grounds for setting aside a conviction are:
    • Unreasonable verdicts based on the evidence presented: The verdict rendered by the jury could have been inconsistent with the evidence presented, so much so that a reasonable juror would not have convicted you of the crime(s) alleged.
    • Errors of law: The judge may have applied the wrong law to your case or applied it incorrectly as presented to the jury.
    • Miscarriage of justice: This means there was a mistake in both/either facts or law as applied to your case, which resulted in an incorrect verdict. This could also encompass issues with jurors such as bias.
    • Ineffective assistance of counsel: This means your attorney was somehow deficient during the defense of your case. While this is very difficult to prove, in cases involving highly complex areas of law such as healthcare fraud, it is possible to meet this burden and overturn a conviction.

What is a Writ of Certiorari?

A Writ of Certiorari is a formal request submitted to a higher court, asking it to review the decision of a lower court. It’s the legal mechanism that kicks off the appellate process at the Supreme Court level. The term “certiorari” comes from Latin and means “to be informed of”, or “to be made certain in regard to.”

This is often easier said than done, as the Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions each year but hears only a fraction of them. Your Writ of Certiorari needs to highlight compelling reasons for the court to take up your case, such as legal errors in the lower court’s decision that could have a broader impact on jurisprudence.

Does a Writ of Certiorari Need to Be Filed a Specific Way?

Yes, the Writ of Certiorari has specific formatting and content requirements. It usually includes the questions presented, a list of parties involved, the opinions below, and the reasons for granting the petition. Failure to adhere to these guidelines can result in the petition being dismissed.

Is There a Timeframe in Which The Writ of Certiorar Needs to Be Filed?

Timing is crucial when it comes to filing a Writ of Certiorari. Generally, you have 90 days from the date of the lower court’s final judgment to file this petition. Missing this deadline can result in losing the opportunity to appeal.

What is an Appellate Brief?

An Appellate Brief is a written document submitted to the appellate court that outlines the legal arguments for why the lower court’s decision should be affirmed or reversed. The Appellate Brief is a more detailed exposition of your legal arguments and supporting evidence.

Is It the Same as the Writ of Certiorari?

No, it’s not the same. While a Writ of Certiorari serves as a request for the higher court to review your case, the Appellate Brief is the actual presentation of your case’s merits. Think of the Writ as the “application” and the Appellate Brief as the first “interview.”

Is an Appellate Brief the Same as an Amicus Brief?

No, an appellate brief is a written legal argument submitted by one of the parties involved in the appeal, while an “amicus curiae” brief, or “friend of the court” brief, is submitted by a third party—a person or organization not directly involved in the case but interested in its outcome. The purpose of an amicus brief is to provide the court with additional perspectives, legal arguments, or information that the court might find useful in making its decision. These briefs are commonly used in cases that have broader social, political, or legal implications.

What is the Goal of the Appellate Brief?

The goal of the Appellate Brief is to persuade the appellate judges that the lower court’s decision was incorrect and should be reversed, or that it was correct and should be affirmed. It’s your opportunity to present a comprehensive legal argument, complete with case law, statutes, and evidence that supports your position.

Does an Appellate Brief Need to Be Written a Certain Way?

Yes, much like the Writ of Certiorari, the Appellate Brief has specific formatting and content requirements. These often include sections like the Statement of the Case, Argument, and Conclusion. Each section serves a specific purpose and should be crafted carefully to meet the court’s guidelines.

Is There a Timeframe to Submit an Appellate Brief?

Yes, once the appellate court agrees to hear your case, you’ll have a set timeframe within which to submit your Appellate Brief. This can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific rules of the appellate court you’re dealing with.

Federal Supreme Court Oral Arguments

Oral arguments are a critical phase in the appellate process, often serving as the last opportunity to persuade appellate judges. Unlike the written briefs, oral arguments provide a dynamic platform for attorneys to interact directly with the judges. The goal is to clarify points made in the appellate briefs, answer judges’ questions, and emphasize the strongest aspects of the case.

What is the Goal of an Oral Argument?

The primary goal of an oral argument is to persuade the appellate court that your position is the correct one. It’s not just about reiterating what’s in the briefs; it’s about making a compelling case for why the lower court’s decision should be upheld or reversed.

Is There a Strategy Behind Oral Arguments?

Absolutely. Experienced appellate attorneys often employ various strategies during oral arguments. They anticipate questions that judges may ask and prepare concise, persuasive responses. They also listen carefully to the judges’ questions and comments, as these can provide valuable insights into what the court is focusing on. In the context of Chapman Law Group’s experience, the attorneys have had significant success in presenting oral arguments at various appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Does a Trial Counsel Have to Preserve Issues for Appeals?

Yes, trial counsel generally has the duty to “preserve” issues for appeal, meaning they must object to errors at the trial level to raise them later in an appeal. Failure to preserve an issue results in the unfavorable standard of review, known as plain error. Under that standard, the appellant must show that the trial court’s error was plain/obvious. In the context of federal criminal appeals, preserving issues can be a strategic move that sets the groundwork for a federal appellate lawyers success later on.

Should I Hire My Trial Lawyer for My Federal Appeal?

While your trial lawyer may be skilled in trial court proceedings, appellate law is a specialized field. It may be beneficial to consult or hire a specialized federal appeals attorney, and more specifically one who has a strong track record dealing with federal courts and who has access to an appellate practice team. This means that they are more familiar with the intricacies of appellate rules, procedures, and the ways in which the federal appellate courts operate.

Where Should My Federal Criminal Appeal Be Filed?

Federal circuit courts of appeals are governed by region:

    • 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: New England including Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island
    • 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Northeast including New York, Vermont, Connecticut
    • 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Mid-Atlantic including New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland
    • 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: South-Atlantic and part of Appalachia including West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina
    • D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: District of Columbia
    • 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Southern U.S. including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi
    • 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Midwest including Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee
    • 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Midwest including Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana
    • 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Midwest including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Montana, Arkansas
    • 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: West including Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Guam, Alaska
    • 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: West including Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma
    • 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: South including Alabama, Georgia, Florida

What Happens If You Lose Your Appellate Case?

Losing an appellate case can be disheartening, but it’s not necessarily the end of the road. Depending on your circumstances, a competent federal appellate counsel knows there are several options you can explore to continue fighting for your justice. Listed below are some of the next steps your appellate lawyer can take to combat the appellate courts decision.

    1. Writ of Habeas Corpus – This writ allows you to challenge your detention or imprisonment. It’s often considered a last resort but can be filed in federal court regardless of if all other avenues have been exhausted.

      A Writ of Habeas Corpus is fundamentally different from a Writ of Certiorari. While the latter is a request for a higher court to review a lower court’s decision, a Writ of Habeas Corpus is a legal mechanism to levy a constitutional challenge of someone’s detention or imprisonment. It’s a constitutional safeguard against detention.

    2. Petition for Rehearing – This is a request for the appellate court to reconsider its decision. While rarely granted, it may be worth pursuing if you believe the court overlooked a critical issue.
    3. Appeal to a Higher Court of Appeals – If your case was decided by a state appellate court, you may have the option to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court. If it was a federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision, you can petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.
    4. Post-Conviction Relief – In some jurisdictions, you can file a motion for post-conviction relief. FRCP Rule 60 motion, specifically, Subsection (b)(6), allows you to present new evidence or argue that your original trial was flawed in a way that violated your constitutional rights. This is a motion that requires extraordinary circumstances.
    5. Sentence Modification – You may be able to petition the court for a sentence modification, especially if new mitigating circumstances come to light.
    6. Federal Sentence Reduction – Amendment 821 – Starting February 1st, 2024 Amendment 821 (18 U.S. Code § 3582©(2)) will change the way federal offense levels are calculated in federal courts. Appellate lawyers can utilize this tool for those who are going to be convicted, and those who were already convicted thanks to the amendments delayed retroactive application.
    7. Clemency or Pardon – Though rare, executive clemency or a pardon is a possibility. This is generally the purview of the state governor or the President of the United States.

Each of these options comes with its own set of rules, procedures, and likelihood of success. Consulting with an experienced appellate lawyer can provide valuable insights into which avenue may be most appropriate for your case.

How to Choose the Right Federal Appellate Lawyer

Selecting the right federal appellate lawyer is crucial. You need someone with a track record of success in federal appellate cases. Chapman Law Group has a seasoned roster of appellate attorneys who have experience representing defendants in the United States Supreme Court, the Federal Court of Appeals, and winning.

    • Naum v. United States (No. 20-1480)
      In this case, Ronald W. Chapman II filed a Writ of Certiorari on behalf of George P. Naum, III, M.D.  Dr. Naum was a physician that was convicted for the unlawful prescribing of controlled substances, and conspiracy to commit the same, in the Northern District of West Virginia. The Fourth Circuit sustained his convictions on appeal.  In petitioning the Supreme Court, Mr. Chapman II argued that the district court instructed the jury that they should convict Dr. Naum if he prescribed controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice, without a legitimate medical purpose—regardless of whether Dr. Naum did so intentionally.  The Supreme Court granted Dr. Naum’s petition, vacating the Fourth Circuit’s judgment, and finding that, to convict Dr. Naum, the jury had to find that he knowingly and intentionally prescribed controlled substances unlawfully, in violation of 21 U.S. Code § 841.
    • Ruan v. United States (No. 20-1410)
      Here, Ronald W. Chapman II filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of a cadre of practitioners and The Center for U.S. Policy before the Supreme Court. That Brief helped to support the Petitioner’s Merits Brief in Ruan v. United States, helping to move the Court to its ultimate decision: that physicians must be protected from criminal consequences for mere negligence or carelessness when prescribing controlled substances.

Cases like these not only showcase the firm’s expertise but also emphasize the critical role that a experienced federal appellate lawyer plays in navigating the complexities of the appellate system.

If you’ve made it this far, we hope this article has empowered you with valuable insights and helped clarify the key points of the appellate process. If you have more questions or need expert guidance, don’t hesitate to send an online submission below, or give us a call for a consultation. Your best defense could be just a phone call away.

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