What is a Direct Appeal?

In criminal law, a direct appeal simply refers to the standard process of appealing your conviction for a crime. Under federal law and the laws of every state, you have the legal right to appeal your case to a higher court if you do not agree with the decision of the court trying your case, or with the jury verdict.

How Direct Appeals Work

When you are convicted of a crime, you may appeal your case to the appellate court for review. If you were tried in federal court, this will be the Circuit Court of Appeals for your region; if in state court, it will be the court of appeals for that state. When appealing your case directly, your attorney will submit a written brief to the appeals court detailing the reasons for your appeal. In many cases, the appeals court will render their decision on the briefs alone, but occasionally they will summon the prosecuting and defense attorneys to appear for short oral arguments. If the appeals court judges find significant issues in your case upon review, they may refer the case back to the trial court to make corrections and/or adjust your sentence, or they may overturn the conviction completely.

courtroomIf the appeals court affirms the lower court decision, that is usually the final word on the matter; however, you have the option to appeal the case either to the state Supreme Court (for state criminal cases) or the U.S. Supreme Court (in federal cases). These courts only hear cases at their discretion, however, and will usually agree to hear a case only if it raises a constitutional question.

Things To Consider with Direct Appeals

It’s important to understand that in a direct appeal, you aren’t arguing against the jury verdict per se, but instead you are typically showing instances of errors or negligence in your case that may have denied you a fair trial or unjustly affected the outcome. Your attorney will detail these arguments in the briefs. Additionally, while the appeals process may take some time, the time frame for filing the appeal is usually short. This is why it’s important to have a skilled and experienced attorney in your corner who can act quickly on your behalf when you are filing a direct appeal.