An appeal from a criminal conviction may be an individual’s last
best hope at freedom – it can even mean the difference between life
and death. Any person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal his
or her conviction to a higher court. This is known as a direct appeal
or an appeal “as a matter of right.” Appeals are generally
limited to a review of the trial record to determine whether any errors
were made were prior to and/or at trial, which would entitle the defendant/appellant
to a reversal of the sentence or conviction. There are several significant
differences between Florida’s state appellate process and the federal
Under Federal law, a notice of appeal in a federal criminal case must be
made to the appropriate court of appeals within 14 days of the date the
judgment and sentence are imposed. After the notice of appeal is filed,
docketing statements are filed, transcripts ordered and any fees paid.
The initial statements with the court are filed so that the appellate
court’s clerk knows how to handle the case. The court reporter will
then have to prepare transcripts.
After filing the Notice of Appeal, the federal circuit court of appeals
will issue a briefing schedule and will give the appellant forty-five
days to file an initial brief. The initial brief generally describes what
happened in the trial court, what happened before the trial started, what
errors were made, and how the court should correct those errors. Called
an Appellant’s brief, it is a lengthy document with citations to
the errors that occurred and other cases (precedent) that direct how those
errors should be corrected. The initial brief must persuade the court
of appeals the errors are illegal and that a new sentence or trial is required.
After the initial brief is filed, the government must file an answer brief.
In doing so, the government will respond to the arguments made in the
After the government files its answer brief, the defendant/appellant may
file a reply brief. The reply brief may respond to the points the government
made and reaffirm the points made in your initial brief.
After these filings are complete, the entire case on appeal along with
the record of the trial court proceedings is submitted to a panel of three
federal circuit judges who will examine the case and the arguments of
The three judge panel may then order oral argument in person before the
court or they may simply decide the issues without any oral argument.
If the panel orders oral argument then both sides will be given an opportunity
to argue their case to those judges. The three judges will then decide the case.
Generally, an appeal in a criminal matter discusses one, or many general
types of issues. For example, one issue that may be raised is that pretrial
motions were improperly decided against the defendant. Evidence that was
improperly obtained and used against the defendant through an illegal
search warrant or an involuntary statement to law enforcement that violated
the defendant’s constitutional rights, may be one such issue. In
the appellate court, the defendant may argue that the district court made
a mistake by allowing such evidence to be considered during trial.
A defendant may also challenge evidentiary issues. For example, if the
district court judge prevented a particular witness from testifying as
a defense witness who should have been allowed to testify, one may argue
to the court of appeals that the district court made a mistake requiring
a new trial.
One may also challenge the sufficiency of the evidence or, in other words,
whether there was substantial competent evidence to support a conviction
for the charged offenses. If the Government did not present enough evidence
to support a finding of guilt, one may raise the issue with the court
Issues that relate to sentencing may also be raised on appeal. When doing
so, one may argue that the process the judge followed when imposing sentence
was incorrect, unfair, ill considered, or illegal and order that the district
judge re-sentence the defendant accordingly.
Once the panel of circuit judges decide the appeal, the losing party may
also be able to ask the circuit court to rehear the case with or without
with all members of the court. One may even petition the United States
Supreme Court to hear the case.
Under Florida law, a party may appeal any final order or judgment of the
trial court. The first step in doing so is the filing of a Notice of Appeal
with the clerk of the trial court. The filing party typically has only
30 days from the date of the final judgment or order to initiate the appeal.
Thus, anyone convicted of a criminal offense has a right of appeal to
the next highest court. One notable exception exists, however, in that
the Florida Supreme Court has exclusive mandatory appellate jurisdiction
over any sentence of death. In other words, appeals of death sentences
automatically by-pass the District Court of Appeal and go directly to
the Florida Supreme Court.
Depending on the nature of the case and the particular appellate court,
the appellant might have to file a statement identifying the parties,
attorneys, and issues to be reviewed.
Attorney Paul Petruzzi has many years of experience in criminal appeals.
It is important for one to hire an experienced attorney when choosing
to appeal a criminal conviction. Attorney Paul Petruzzi’s knowledge
and expertise in this field of law is a vital asset to anyone looking
to appeal their criminal conviction.
Call today for a free consultation.