Federal trials take place in federal district courts. In New York, there are four federal district courts, each covering a specific geographical area. Other states similarly include various district courts to hear federal-level cases. Following a federal trial and subsequent conviction, an individual has an opportunity to file direct criminal appeals as an automatic right. These direct appeals are heard in various Circuit Courts. For example, in New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals hears matters stemming from the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.
Direct appeals involve issues that are referred to as being on the record. A legal issue is on the record if it was raised and argued before the judge in the District Court at the initial trial. Notably, the direct appeals process must be initiated with a notice of appeal in the district court where the trial occurred. The notice must be filed within a short time frame, typically 14 days after the court enters the written judgment. Following the filing of a notice of appeal, the Circuit Court will issue a briefing schedule to both parties.
State trials take place in various state criminal and supreme courts. Following a jury or bench trial, an individual may seek to file a direct appeal, which also requires the filing of a notice of appeal to initiate the proceeding. State appeals are heard in appellate courts depending on the location of the underlying matter – New York consists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th departments.
Whether a state or federal case, a direct appeal is a written brief and subsequent argument. Most importantly, a direct appeal must be based on issues occurring “on the trial record” at the lower level. Hence, questionable legal rulings by a trial judge, or impermissible statements and arguments made by a prosecutor on the record, will qualify as direct appeal arguments. What won’t qualify are issues taking place off or outside of the record (i.e., the discovery of new evidence, a witness recantation, or a Brady violation).
If a defendant loses a state direct appeal, leave may be granted, and the arguments may be bolstered and represented to the Court of Appeals. Likewise, if a federal direct appeal is unsuccessful, the United States Supreme Court may agree to hear the matter.
Direct appeals are based on a thorough reading and analysis of the trial record. Direct appeals require diligent appellate attorneys who recognize evidentiary and other legal issues that were material at the trial level and constitute reversible errors, which, if presented correctly, may result in your conviction being overturned.
If you have been convicted following a state or federal trial, it is imperative that you hire competent, experienced counsel in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island to review the record, identify appellate issues, and write a convincing brief for appellate review. Doing so could lead to a reversal of your conviction and sentence.