Because each one is distinct, the time it takes to complete a criminal appeal differs dramatically from case to case and is largely determined by the complexity of the charges and nuance of their surrounding circumstances. Generally however, there are some guidelines that outline how long an appeal may take based on its classification as either a state or federal conviction.
In California for instance, a state appeal typically takes 14 to 16 months. Federal cases, on the other hand, have a much longer time frame of 2 years or more.
If you are interested in pursuing appellate action, it’s important that you understand the stages involved in the criminal appeals process and the quickly approaching criminal appeals deadlines that help dictate how long a state or federal appellate case may last.
The Appeals Process
Once you decide to pursue appellate action, the first step involves filing a notice of appeal. This notice of appeal, which must be submitted within 30 days of the court’s initial ruling, formally declares your intention to challenge your conviction. This short 30 day window, reserved for state cases, increases to 60 days for felony cases and decreases to 14 days for felony cases.
Next step involves extensive case research and work on your attorney’s part. It is during this relatively short window of time that your legal team obtains and reviews the case documents, transcripts, and records from your original trial in the search for any legal irregularities that they can use to help build your appellate defense. This intense review process culminates in a defensible and well written “opening brief” that will be submitted to a judge for review.
These briefs implore the court to grant the defendant post conviction relief, enumerating the reasons why the appellate petition should be accepted. For both state and federal cases, the opening brief generally must be submitted to the court no more than 40 days after your attorney obtains your trial transcript. The 30 days following the submission of the opening brief is reserved for the opposing counsel to submit their own brief, known as the “respondent’s brief.” After that, you and your attorney are given the choice to file a reply to the respondent’s brief, which must be done in 20 days.
Once all the briefs have been received, the court will likely spend the next few months or, in some cases, years, to review them and schedule the next step of appellate process: the oral argument. During oral arguments, attorneys have the opportunity to defend their interpretation of the law once again before a judge. These hearings are often short meetings that are limited to 30 minutes each.
Weeks may pass after this oral argument before an appellate decision is made and the court issues its ruling. If your appeal is successful, your conviction may be vacated if there are extreme circumstances that permit it, but more often than not, you will receive a new trial date in which the ills of your original trial can be addressed.
For instance, let’s say your attorney successfully proves that you were denied access to present a crucial piece of evidence in court that ultimately influenced the result of the trial. Instead of throwing your case out all together, the court will grant you the opportunity for a new trial in which you will be able to present this suppressed evidence in hopes of getting you the justice you deserve.