From Leigh’s interview for the Masters of the Courtroom series on ReelLawyers.com.
During the time between when you’re convicted of a federal crime and when you are formally sentenced, a lot can happen that can have a great impact on the severity of your sentence, including even having convictions overturned. This is why it’s so important to hire a criminal defense attorney with plenty of experience in federal post-conviction strategies.
About the Post Conviction Stage of Your Federal Case
In most federal cases, a sentence is not handed down immediately when you are convicted, but instead the U.S. District Court judge will hold a sentencing hearing between 75-90 days after the conclusion of your trial. The judge uses this time to weigh the findings of your Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) and consult the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) to determine an appropriate sentence. However, a skilled defense attorney will also use this time to employ a number of strategies, including appeals and post-trial motions, to highlight any errors or instances of negligence during the course of your trial that have denied you due process under the law. In some cases, these federal post-conviction strategies can result in having your sentence modified or reduced, vacating your conviction on some or all charges, or ordering a new trial (which gives you another chance to prove your innocence).
It is highly common for convictions in federal court to be appealed. Your attorney will appeal your case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals presiding over your district, submitting a written brief (and occasionally a short oral argument) detailing instances in which errors or omissions occurred and how these wrongly affected the outcome against you. Upon review, if the appellate judges agree, they may vacate the conviction and/or sentence, remand the case back to the District Court for corrections, or call for a new trial. (Click here to view some of our successful appeals.)
In addition to direct appeal, your attorney may also file any of a number of post-trial motions to be considered by the District Court where your trial took place. For example, if new evidence has come to light that might have exonerated you otherwise, your attorney may petition for a new trial as an opportunity to present that evidence. Other possible post-trial motions include a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (asking the judge to set the jury’s verdict aside) or a Motion to Correct or Vacate a Sentence (if significant errors in the case resulted in an inordinate sentence). The judge will typically approve these post-trial motions only if the attorney can show sufficient reason to do so.
After Sentencing Has Occurred…
Even after you have begun serving your sentence, there are additional motions that your attorney may file that may provide leniency after the fact. If applicable, your attorney may opt to file a petition for habeas corpus, claiming that your imprisonment violates the Constitution. If new evidence comes out that could vindicate you; if your sentence is particularly severe or violates a plea agreement; or if changes in the law could affect the length of your sentence; these are all sufficient reasons for your attorney to petition for some form of post-conviction relief on your behalf.
Our Experience with Federal Post-Conviction Procedures
As you can see from the above, when you are convicted of a federal crime, isn’t simply a time for you to sit and wait to start serving your sentence. An experienced attorney working on your behalf can still make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Attorney Marcia Shein has extensive experience in federal post-conviction strategies and has successfully negotiated for mitigated sentences and overturned convictions for many of her clients.