Appeals within the federal court system are processed by circuit courts, which for the most part are organized by geographical region. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is located in Chicago, Illinois and hears appeals from the federal district (or trial) courts in three states: Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. An appeal is typically decided by a three-judge panel of the court. Following briefing and oral argument by the parties, the court will issue a written decision. Rarely, the court will sit “en banc,” meaning that all of its (11) active judges hear and decide a particular appeal.
Handling appeals represents a distinct form of advocacy. Appellate courts do not take evidence or adjudicate facts like a trial court. Instead, they consider only discrete legal issues arising out of one party's challenge to an order or judgment of a trial court. Appellate lawyers for the United States Attorney's Office carefully review the records of trial court proceedings, prepare detailed written briefs, and in most cases, argue their appellate cases orally before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Appellate decisions rendered by the Seventh Circuit are generally precedential, which means that they govern the disposition of similar issues as they are litigated in the federal courts throughout the circuit.
The Appellate Division's caseload involves a wide variety of cases, both criminal and civil. Appellate lawyers from the United States Attorney’s Office represent the government in appeals filed by criminal defendants who are seeking review of their convictions or sentences. These appeals involve federal offenses such as large-scale drug conspiracies, mail and wire fraud, healthcare fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration and firearms offenses, and child pornography cases.
The Appellate Division is also responsible for appeals that stem from civil claims brought by or against the United States. These include tort claims brought by individuals and cases involving the administrative actions of federal agencies. Civil appeals can also include cases in which the United States has brought an action to advance or enforce environmental or civil rights laws.
Jonathan H. Koenig, Chief, Appellate Division
US Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Wisconsin