How Long Do Federal Appeals Take?

If you’ve been convicted of a federal crime and you plan to appeal your conviction, it’s important to understand that patience is a virtue. Due to a variety of reasons, federal appeals generally take longer to process than most of us wish they would.

How long do federal appeals take? Generally speaking, it can take anywhere between a few months and two years for the appeals court to render a decision. Based on current time frames and our own experience, it’s not unreasonable to expect the appeals process to last about a year or more.

The Appeals Process

Why does it take so long for the appeals courts to render a decision? There are several factors, not the least of which is the sheer volume of court cases to be processed, and the paperwork involved. Additionally, if the circumstances of your case are particularly complex, it can take longer to prepare effective briefs, and longer for the appellate judges to consider your appeal. In short, your appeal goes through a process of steps, and every step takes time. Here’s the process in a nutshell.

  • Notice of appeal. Your attorney should file this as soon as possible to get the process started (generally, the notice should be filed within 10 days of sentencing).
  • Filing the appeal. Once you’ve notified the courts that you plan to appeal, the actual appeal must be filed within 30 days, or your right to appeal may be forfeited.
  • Response from the opposing side. While your appeal is being reviewed by court clerks, the prosecution has 30 days to submit a written response to the appeal.
  • Written briefs and oral arguments. Once your appeal and the prosecution’s response have been submitted and reviewed, the case is put on the court calendar for the judges to review the written briefs, and occasionally hear oral arguments from both sides. Depending on how many cases are on the docket, this can take awhile, often 3-4 months before the case actually makes it to the appeals court.
  • Deliberation and decision. Once the judges have read the briefs (and heard oral arguments, if applicable), they take as much time as they need to consider the evidence and render a decision.

While federal appeals take longer to process than most of us would like, the fact remains that a hastily rendered decision would be less likely to turn out in your favor. For that reason, if you are awaiting a decision on an appealed federal conviction or sentence, it’s ultimately in your best interests to be patient.