Criminal Appeals to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit hears direct appeals from federal criminal cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, or the United States Virgin Islands. This is also the court that hears appeals from the denial of section 2254 or 2255 post-conviction relief proceedings.

The deadlines in federal appeals are unforgiving. Missing those deadlines can be costly, as can errors in the notice of appeal or any subsequent filings.

Generally speaking, a notice of appeal must be filed in the district court of conviction not more than 14 days after entry of the criminal judgment. This period might be extended in cases where the government appeals or where motions are timely filed in the criminal case after entry of the judgment. In order to calculate the proper date for the filing of a notice of appeal, it is important to consult an experienced criminal appeals attorney in Pennsylvania.

In the Third Circuit, the appellate judges will not review materials unless they are provided as a part of the appendix. For that reason, an attorney must carefully review all of the materials from the district court in order to make sure that the Third Circuit has access to them. It can be a disaster to leave out certain materials, even if they do not seem important at first glance.

The Third Circuit reviews decisions by the district court. A federal appeal is not the place to retry your case. Instead, it provides an opportunity to present arguments that the district court made errors that entitle you to relief. Those errors might be of sufficient magnitude to entitle a convicted person to a new trial, a new sentencing, or a complete discharge from custody.

In a federal criminal appeal, you might be able to claim that evidence should not have been admitted even if there was no objection in the district court. This is called “plain error” review. But establishing the existence of a plain error is different than proving that error occurred when an objection was actually made. Among other increased burdens, plain error requires a greater showing of harm.

The criminal appeals process in federal court is similar in many ways to Pennsylvania. In typical cases, the defendant in a criminal appeal files a brief first (along with the appendix discussed above). That brief argues why the defendant is entitled to relief. The government then files a brief arguing why the appeal should be denied, and a reply brief can be filed afterward.

A three-judge panel decides each case. They first decide whether oral argument should be presented. If your case is selected for argument, your attorney better thoroughly know the facts, because the Third Circuit judges will. An attorney who has not thoroughly prepared is risking embarrassment and worse.

Following argument, the panel decides the case, with the majority vote winning. One of the judges in the majority writes the Opinion of the Court, and the remaining judges either join that opinion or write concurring or dissenting opinions. A concurring opinion agrees with the outcome but wishes to include additional thoughts. A dissenting opinion disagrees with the outcome.

After the opinion is released, the losing party is able to ask for reconsideration by the full Court. This request is rarely granted and not looked favorably upon except in the most infrequent situations. But it is warranted in some circumstances. The losing party also has the opportunity to ask the United States Supreme Court to review its case.

Understanding the typical course of a federal criminal appeal is different than knowing how to best present issues in a way increasing the likelihood of success. Your appeal following conviction is of tremendous importance. That is why hiring an experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer is the right decision. If you have any questions regarding filing federal appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, contact attorney Lloyd Long today for a consultation.