Federal appeals typically occur when the losing party at trial files paperwork to get a higher court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, to review the trial court decision, in hopes of getting a different outcome. The party asking the higher court to review the trial court decision is referred to as the petitioner or appellant. The other party (the side that didn’t ask for the appeal) is referred to as the respondent or the appellee.

The appellate process however is very different from what takes place at the trial level. Unlike at trial, it is typically only the attorneys who take part in the process. The attorneys will gather all the evidence as to why they think the trial court decision was wrong (or right, if you’re the respondent), and reduce their arguments down to a thorough and extensive writing, ironically called a brief. The briefs from both sides are submitted to the appellate court for review. Many times, the appeals judges will make a decision on the briefs alone. However, in some cases, the attorneys must appear before the court to take part in oral arguments. Oral arguments, just as the name suggests, is a structured debate before a panel of judges between the lawyers from each side.

Each side typically gets about 15 minutes to present their arguments to the panel. After reading the briefs from each party, and hearing the oral arguments, the panel will issue a decision on whether to uphold or reverse the trial court’s decision. Many cases stop here, with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision becoming the final decision in the case. However, the really big cases may even go a step further and appeal to the United States Supreme Court, repeating this same process over again. There is no further appeal after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.


Who can ask for an appeal depends on the type of case being argued. For example, in a civil matter, either side may ask for an appeal.

In a criminal case however, the defendant may petition for an appeal if he or she is found guilty at trial, but the government cannot appeal a not guilty verdict. In bankruptcy cases, either side can file an appeal, with most cases ending up in front of a special panel called a bankruptcy appellate panel (BAP).


Similar to appeals at the state level, they must be filed within a certain time frame or you lose your right to appeal. In federal civil cases, the general rule is that notices of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the trial court judges order or judgment is entered.

There are some exceptions to this 30-day rule – for example, if one the parties in the lawsuit is either the U.S. government, a U.S. government official or employee, or a U.S. agency, then either party has 60 days to file a notice of appeal.

In federal criminal cases, the defendant notice of appeal must be filed within 14 days after the judge’s order or judgment has been entered.


Federal appeals can differ greatly between the state and federal courts. The rules for appealing cases at the state level vary from state to state. Additionally, not all states have intermediate courts of appeals.

For example, it wasn’t until November 2014 that Nevada voters approved its Court of Appeals, which began hearing appeals in 2015. Prior to this, all appeals went straight to the Nevada Supreme Court. Another difference is that in Nevada, a defendant in a criminal case generally has 30 days to file a notice of appeal with the district court clerk [See Nevada Rules of Appellate Procedure 4(b)(1)(A)].

This is different from the federal appellate process, where a criminal defendant must file their notice of appeal within 14 days. This is just one example of some of the differences that can occur between the state and federal court appeals process.

Another difference between state and federal appeals is the law by which they are governed. State court appeals are governed by the law of the state in which the court sits, while the federal appellate courts are governed by Article III of the United States Constitution.

Also, appeals at the state level typically work their way up by going from the trial, up to the state court of appeals, and then to the state supreme court. Appeals at the federal level go from the trial, up to the U.S. Court of Appeals (the Circuit Court), and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.


The courts receive many requests for appeals, and as you can imagine, not all of them are heard. Many times, the Court of Appeals denies a petitioner’s request to review the trail court decision. When this happens, the petitioner can still file a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals.

This motion is essentially asking the court of appeals to take a second look at the reasons the petitioner believes there was error at the trial court level. If the Court of Appeals is still not convinced to hear the appeal, the petitioner can file what’s called a petition for writ of certiorari, which is a request to have their case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.


The law is very nuanced. Federal prosecutors have almost unlimited advantages and resources at their disposal. Having attorneys on your team that understand the law, keep abreast of legal developments in the law, have the experience dealing with the complexities of federal statutes and, finally, possess the skills to stand before a jury to make a compelling case on behalf of a client are not just important qualities, they’re critical. At The Federal Defenders. we pride ourselves on being advocates for our clients. With decades of experience with all variety and manner of federal criminal issues and defenses, we understand what it takes to put our clients in a winning position. For a free and confidential consultation, call us today at (800) 712-0000. Just like our toll-free number, we operate nationwide.