When a Defendant loses his case before the United States District Court, he may wish to appeal his case. If the case was lost at trial, or if there was some adverse ruling before trial (like a denial of a Motion to Suppress Evidence), then the Defendant may have certain parts of his case reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for his circuit.

Facing of U.S. Penitentiary with columns

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Often, however, cases are disposed of by means of a Plea Bargain Agreement (or just “Plea Agreement”), whereby the Defendant and the Government agree to certain things. One of the things that can be contained in the Plea Agreement is the Defendant’s agreement to waive his right to appeal. The Defendant should know that, in most cases, this waiver of the right to appeal will be enforced. HOWEVER, it is sometimes possible to attack the conviction on direct appeal on a matter that the Courts of Appeals have indicated is always reviewable. An experienced attorney MUST review certain underlying case documents carefully to determine whether, even if an appeal waiver has been signed, the defendant may not have a good faith basis to seek to have the conviction overturned. It should also be noted that, although many appellate attorneys are very skilled in the typical appellate isues, not all understand that there are potential jurisdictional defects that may provide an effective route to appeal even if an appeal has been waived.

Some appeals can be handled by anyone. Any lawyer can handle an easy case. However, very few cases are actually that easy. Granted, most Defendants, with the sting of some injustice still fresh on their minds, will feel like the issue is very clear and easy. However, because of the state of the law, many “easy” issues are complicated by intricate legal minutiae.

The Court of Appeals does not look at a case with the same eye as the Defendant. The Defendant can see clearly and in an instant that the result was unjust. But the Court looks at each detail of the case to see whether anything that happened to the Defendant was a violation of the law or the rights of the Defendant.

This is where the job of the attorney comes in. The most skilled attorneys will, in the briefs filed on behalf of the Defendant, direct the Court’s attention to the most important details (usually only one or two of them) and explain in terms that the Court is familiar with what is wrong in the decision of the lower Court. The attorney may seem to completely ignore the issues that seem most important to his client. But this is because he understands that the issue most concerning to the client will either not be important to the Court of Appeals, or it just won’t work because the law is not in the Defendant’s favor on this issue.

This is precisely, however, why you want a good appellate lawyer on your side. Perhaps a mediocre attorney would take the client’s pet issue and run with it just to make the client feel good, knowing that it will lose. A good lawyer will take all of the issues that the client feels most passionate about and research them to see whether, based on the Court of Appeals’ past decisions, they are likely to rule favorably on them. Additionally, the good lawyer will dig deep into the record and look for the issues that the Court of Appeals has ruled favorably on in the past. Then he will put these issues on display in the brief and explain to the Court why they should rule favorably in this case.

A person who believes he has a legitimate issue to bring before the United States Court of Appeals should have an attorney who is committed to zealously seeing the appeal through. An attorney may not put forward the very best efforts in prosecuting the appeal if he or she does not really believe in the case.

Where your appellate lawyer is located is not as important as knowing that he is dedicated and believes in what he does. In my opinion, what makes an appellate attorney great is the belief that in defending the rights of this one Defendant, he or she is defending the rights of all Americans. Find and hire a great attorney!

It is important to keep in mind that most appeal matters are quite urgent. In Federal Courts, the defendant only has 10 days from the date of the entry of the Judgment (which may not always be the date of the sentencing hearing) to file a Notice of Appeal. Otherwise, the Defendant will forever lose his right to complain of the conviction on direct appeal. You should contact an attorney immediately if you think an appeal may be appropriate.

If you would like to discuss your case with me, please call me at (512) 693-9LAW or email me. Just click on the “Contact Us” link here or at the top of the page, and I would be glad to talk to you about your matter. Alternatively, just email me at chad@drugandgunlawyer.com. I can handle cases before any Federal Court of Appeals. There is no charge for consultation on your matter.

by Chad Van Cleave