What Jurisdiction Do Federal Courts of Appeal Have?

Before you begin the appeals process for a recent conviction on one or more federal offenses, it’s important to understand what jurisdiction the Federal Court of Appeal will have over your case. This will give you a better understanding of what to expect when you file your appeal. Your attorney can advise you more thoroughly concerning specifics of your case, but here is a brief overview of how the Courts of Appeal may interact with your case.


Court of AppealsIn the federal court system, the U.S. is geographically divided into 94 federal districts overseen by twelve regional circuits. Each of these circuits has its own Circuit Court of Appeals; there is also a thirteenth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. Above all these courts is the U.S. Supreme Court. The twelve regional Circuits hear cases that are appealed from the districts within their geographical jurisdiction, while the thirteenth Court reviews special cases not dealing with a geographical boundary, such as matters of patent law and other topics. In the vast majority of cases, your appeal will be heard in the Circuit Court of Appeals overseeing the district in which your conviction occurred. For example, if you were tried in a federal court in Georgia, Alabama or Florida, you will appeal your case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Atlanta, GA.


In filing your appeal, it’s important to know what the Court of Appeals will or will not do, according to the limitations of the law:

  • The appeals court WILL NOT re-try your case. There will be no further witnesses or evidence presented from either side.
  • The appeals court WILL review the details of your case, looking for instances of error or negligence that might have affected the trial’s outcome, based on arguments presented by attorneys for the prosecution and defense.
  • The Federal Court of Appeals WILL NOT hear appeals for cases tried in state courts. Those cases are under the jurisdiction of the Courts of Appeal within that particular state.
  • The decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals is usually final. You may opt to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that court can choose which cases it will review, and usually only hears cases that raise constitutional questions. (Most federal offenses don’t require an interpretation of the Constitution.)

Beyond this brief overview, there are certain procedural rules and complexities within the federal court system that really require the expertise of an experienced defense attorney to help you navigate them. For more information about filing an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal within your jurisdiction, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today.