CRIMINAL APPEALS IN FEDERAL COURT
"The hanging judge is the symbol of the strange mixture of reality and illusion, democracy and privilege, humbug and decency, the subtle network of compromises, by which the nation keeps itself in familiar shape."
- George Orwell
Appeals from cases in the federal court system are taken to the United States Court of Appeals. The court of appeals for the seventh circuit, which sits in Chicago, hears all appeals from federal courts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
A federal appeal is in most respects very much like an appeal in the Illinois state court system. A federal court of appeals sits in panels of three judges who, like Illinois state appellate judges, hear no witnesses, take no new evidence, and confine their review strictly to the record of proceedings before the trial court. Like the state appellate court, the federal court of appeals is looking only for possible legal error and will not reweigh issues of credibility or reconsider the facts as determined by the trial court.
As in a state appellate court, almost all proceedings before a federal court of appeals are in writing. The court has the written record and it has the briefs submitted by the lawyers. The court of appeals for the seventh circuit in Chicago prefers to hear oral argument in virtually every case. These arguments are kept short and tight, usually limited to fifteen minutes per side, sometimes less. As in any appellate court, oral argument is confined to analysis of disputed legal issues, and the judges of the seventh circuit come to argument thoroughly prepared and ready with intense and aggressive questions for the arguing lawyers.
Notice of appeal deadlines are different from those in the Illinois state court system. The notice of appeal in a federal criminal case must be filed within fourteen days of the entry of final judgment. Interestingly, the notice of appeal deadlines in collateral review cases in federal court are different. A state prisoner has thirty days in which to file a notice of appeal from the denial of a Section 2254 federal habeas corpus petition. A federal prisoner who wants to appeal the denial of a Section 2255 habeas corpus motion, on the other hand, has sixty days from the entry of judgment in which to do so.
There is no right to appeal further from the decision of a federal court of appeals. In very rare instances, further review can be had from the United States Supreme Court, but only if the Court agrees to allow the seldom-granted writ of certiorari. It is an exceptional case in which the decision of the court of appeals is not the last word.