Criminal appeals are heard as a matter of right.
Criminal appeals are heard as a matter of right.
Writ petitions are generally heard as a matter of discretion, and they are governed by equitable principles.
A writ of habeas corpus orders the custodian of an individual in custody to produce the individual before the court to make an inquiry concerning his or her detention.
The federal court system has three main levels: district courts (the trial court), circuit courts which are the first level of appeal, and the Supreme Court of the United States, the final level of appeal in the federal system. There are 13 circuit courts, and one Supreme Court throughout the country.
Once the federal district (trial) court has decided a case, the case can be appealed to a United States court of appeal. There are twelve federal circuits that divide the country into different regions. The Ninth Circuit, for example, includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, along with territorial courts of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. Cases from the district courts of those states and territories are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is headquartered in San Franciso, California.
Even after a defendant is found guilty, they can petition an appeal to the Circuit Court if the defendant believes they were wrongly convicted or the sentence was too harsh. An appeal is not another trial but an opportunity for the defendant / petitioner to try to raise specific errors that might have occurred at trial. A common appeal is that a decision from the judge was incorrect – such as whether to suppress certain evidence or to impose a certain sentence or more commonly, if the jury instructions were incorrect. Appeals are complicated and sometimes result in the case going back to the trial court. A specific conviction may be reversed, a sentence altered, or a new trial may be ordered altogether if the Appeals Court decides that particular course of action.
Even after an appeal is decided by a circuit court with a three judge panel, a defendant can request a rare “en banc hearing,” which is a hearing in front of all the circuit judges. (The Ninth Circuit has a different process for en banc than the rest of the circuits.) En banc opinions tend to carry more weight and are usually decided only after a panel has first heard the case. Once a panel has ruled on an issue and “published” the opinion, no future panel can overrule the previous decision. The panel can, however, suggest that the circuit take up the case en banc to reconsider the first panel’s decision.
Even then after the decision the petitioner can try to appeal that decision to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The United States Supreme Court — the highest appellate court in the American court system — makes the final decision concerning a defendant’s appeal. The Court is not required to hear an appeal in every case and takes only a small number of cases each year.
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the American judicial system, and has the power to decide appeals on all cases brought in federal court or those brought in state court but dealing with federal law. For example, if a First Amendment freedom of speech case was decided by the highest court of a state (usually the state supreme court), the case could be appealed to the federal Supreme Court. However, if that same case were decided entirely on a state law similar to the First Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States would not be able to consider the case.
After the circuit court or state supreme court has ruled on a case, either party may choose to appeal to the Supreme Court. Unlike circuit court appeals, however, the Supreme Court is usually not required to hear the appeal. Parties may file a “writ of certiorari” to the court, asking it to hear the case. If the writ is granted, the Supreme Court will take briefs and conduct oral argument. If the writ is not granted, the lower court’s opinion stands. Certiorari is not often granted; less than 1% of appeals to the high court are actually heard by it. The Court typically hears cases when there are conflicting decisions across the country on a particular issue or when there is an egregious error in a case.
The members of the Court are referred to as “justices” and, like other federal judges, they are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a life term. There are nine justices on the court – eight associate justices and one chief justice. The Constitution sets no requirements for Supreme Court justices, though all current members of the court are lawyers and most have served as circuit court judges. Justices are also often former law professors. The chief justice acts as the administrator of the court and is chosen by the President and approved by the Congress when the position is vacant.
The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C. The court conducts its annual term from the first Monday of October until each summer, usually ending in late June.
Years of Experience