Collateral Appeals

From Leigh’s interview for the Masters of the Courtroom series on

If directly appealing your recent conviction has not produced desirable results, your defense attorney may still be able to secure some post-conviction relief on your behalf. This is done by filing any of a number of collateral appeals to challenge the legality of your conviction or your current incarceration.

Understanding Collateral Appeals

Collateral AppealsUnlike a direct appeal, which is the common process of appealing your case to the higher courts for review, a collateral appeal is a post-trial motion that asks the courts to reevaluate specific elements of your case on the grounds that you were denied due process, or that the courts somehow acted illegally while trying your case. Collateral appeals are generally considered a second line of defense after the direct appeals process has run its course.

Some additional ways we can differentiate between direct and collateral appeals:

  • Direct appeals are reviewed by the court of appeals having jurisdiction over your case; collateral appeals are made to the court in which your case was tried.
  • Direct appeals are your legal right, meaning the judges must review your case; collateral appeals, however, are discretionary, meaning the court gets to decide whether to review them.
  • The purpose of a direct appeal is to cite instances of error or negligence that may have caused you to be wrongfully convicted; the purpose of a collateral appeal is to challenge outright the legality of your conviction and/or imprisonment, rather than reevaluating guilt or innocence.


Depending the circumstances surrounding your case, your attorney may recommend a number of post-trial motions to seek a remedy on your behalf. However, two types of collateral appeals are more common than the rest:

  • Petition for Habeas Corpus. This motion only applies if you are currently in custody, and is used only after other appeals have run their course. According to the law, you cannot be legally held by state or federal governments without due process, or unless the government can show just cause. Habeas corpus makes the claim that something about your conviction and imprisonment has violated this right. If your attorney convinces the court that there is a reasonable possibility that this happened, the judge will issue a Writ of Habeas Corpus demanding that the jailer return you to court to review the circumstances of your incarceration.
  • Motion for a New Trial. This post-trial motion argues for your constitutional right to receive a fair trial. In this case, the attorney will either cite specific errors that occurred in your case to render your first trial invalid, or argue that new evidence has been discovered that could potentially exonerate you.

Our Experience with Collateral Appeals

Collateral appeals are often thought of as a “last resort” in the post-trial relief process. This means you need an attorney on your side who has a working knowledge of the intricacies of the law, someone who can recommend the post-trial strategies that are most likely to produce a positive outcome. The attorneys of the Federal Criminal Law Center are highly experienced in the appeals process at both federal and state levels, with an excellent track record of success with direct and collateral appeals.