In DC, once convicted of a crime, you have thirty days to file a Notice of Appeal. That basically lets the Court system know that you plan to appeal your conviction. Criminal appeals take time. In some cases, it takes years for the Court of Appeals to make a decision. Once you file a Notice of Appeal, the Court will prepare an appeal package and your attorney will have 30 days to request a transcript of the proceeding. A transcript is just a verbatim account of what happened in court written down. Your appellate attorney must file with the Court of Appeals a “Statement Regarding Transcripts,” which indicates the transcripts have been ordered.
The Court of Appeals will eventually file a briefing schedule, which gives your appellate attorney a certain amount of time to complete the brief. The brief is just a written legal argument as to why a judge, your trial attorney, or the prosecutor made a mistake that was big enough it impacted the trial. The government usually gets about 30 days to respond to the appellant brief and then, if appropriate, your appellate attorney can file a reply to the government’s brief.
Because of the nature of appellate practice, the government and the defense attorney may ask for one or more extensions of time to meet a particular deadline. The Office of Attorney General for the District of Columbia, which defends DUI and other traffic appeals, in some cases may ask for up to a year to respond to the appellant’s brief. The US Attorney’s Office that represents the government in most other misdemeanor and felony appeals usually has better track record but still usually asks for additional time. The Judges in the D.C. Court of Appeals usually grant requests for additional time.
DC is a unique jurisdiction in that it only has one appellate court. Most states have a trial court where defendant’s appeal the decisions to an intermediate appellate court. Those states usually have multiple intermediate appellate courts that divide the state into geographic circuits. After the appeal is adjudicated at the intermediate appellate court, the losing party can appeal to the state’s supreme court.
In DC, there are no intermediate appellate courts and appeals from DC Superior Court go directly to the DC Court of Appeals. The DC Court of Appeals is equivalent of a state supreme court. As a result, the DC Court of Appeals handles an extremely large amount of cases each year. This fact contributes the length of delay in most appellate cases.
If your trial was held in a traffic case before a DC Superior Court Magistrate Judge, you must first appeal to a DC Superior Court Associate Judge before you can appeal to the DC Court of Appeals. In those situations, the Associate Judge at the trial level essentially acts as the intermediate appellate court.
In some cases, the DC Court of Appeals will request that the parties participate in an oral argument. At an oral argument, the justices on the Court of Appeals have an opportunity to question the attorneys about the issues raised in the brief. After the case has been fully briefed and argued (if requested), the parties wait for the Court of Appeals to make a decision. Usually, three of the nine Court of Appeals judges will make the decision. If you are unhappy with the decision, it is possible to appeal to an en banc panel in some cases. En banc means a full panel of the Court of Appeals, which includes all nine judges.
If you lose your DC criminal appeal, it is possible to apply to the United States Supreme Court and ask them to review the decision. The Supreme Court only hears a very limited number of cases each year and just getting the Court to grant certiorari (agree to hear the case) is an extremely difficult task. A guide for prospective indigent petitioners for writ of certiorari can be found here.
Its important to know that if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you will probably serve your sentence, including any jail time and/or probation before the appellate process is complete. However, if you are wrongfully convicted, a successful DC criminal appeal can have the conviction removed from your record. If you are convicted of a crime in DC, contact Scrofano Law PC as soon as possible to discuss further what your appellate rights and options are.