High Court Appeals: What You Should Know

If you have appealed a recent conviction and the appellate courts have ruled against you, you might be considering your options for appealing to the high court. In state cases, this would be the Supreme Court of the state; in federal cases, this would be the United States Supreme Court. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, since you’re asking the court with the highest authority in your case to review the decision of two prior courts. To keep a realistic expectation, here’s what you should know about high court appeals.


Appealing A ConvictionYou have the right to appeal an initial court decision, which means when you are convicted of a crime and choose to appeal, and the appeals court generally must review your case “as of right.” However, this is not typically the case with the state or federal Supreme Courts. With few exceptions, high courts only hear cases at their own discretion, which means they must find significant reason to review your case. In most situations, the Supreme Court elects to review cases that raise particular legal or constitutional questions that could affect other similar cases, or broadly affect how the laws are interpreted. If your conviction represents a broader reaching legal principle, that could be sufficient cause to appeal to the high court. If you simply disagree with the rulings of the lower courts, it might not be advisable to press the matter further. Your attorney can advise you of your options.


In most cases, the high courts aren’t in a hurry. If you’ve been through the direct appeals process, you’re already familiar with how long it can take. Appealing to a high court requires even more patience. The length of time can vary within the state court systems, but except in rare cases, the U.S. Supreme Court can take up to 6 weeks just to decide whether to review your case. Then the opposing side has 30 days to file a response, after which your attorney will have 45 days to submit a brief, after which the opposition has another 30 days to file their own brief—all before the case ever gets heard in court. From the moment you petition the Supreme Court to the time a decision is rendered, it can take anywhere from 12-24 months.


Between filing fees, court costs and the additional attorney fees, an appeal to the state or federal Supreme Court can add significant expenses to your case. Considering that the Supreme Court has the right to refuse (and statistically, most cases are denied), it’s important that you weigh the significance of your case, and the probability of whether the high court will find enough merit to review it, before you commit to the extra costs.

Of course every case is different, and your defense attorney is the best person to advise you on your options for filing appeals. To learn more about high court appeals and how they might affect your case, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today.