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After the state post-conviction appeal is completed, the capital defendant may file an appeal in the UNITED STATES FEDERAL COURTS.

The defendant must comply with strict federal time requirements in order to appeal to the federal courts.


The first federal court to which the defendant may appeal is the United States District Court.

In Alabama, there are three district courts each serving particular counties. These districts include the Northern District Court in Birmingham, the Middle District Court in Montgomery, and the Southern District Court in Mobile.

The case will be heard before a single federal district judge or a federal magistrate from the district that the original trial was held.

In the petition filed in the United States District Court, the defendant, now called the“petitioner,” argues that the conviction and/or sentence should be overturned becausethe conviction was obtained in violation of the defendant’s federal constitutional rights.

In its answer, the State, represented by the Capital Litigation Division of the Office of the Attorney General, responds to each of the allegations, arguing that relief should be denied and the conviction and sentence upheld.

The record of all the previous state court proceedings, including the trial, direct appeal, and state post-conviction appeal, are filed in the United States District Court.

• Sometimes, the district court holds a hearing to resolve some or all of the petitioner’s allegations. These hearings are open to the public, and the petitioner will be present. The court reviews the briefs of the lawyers, the records from all the state proceedings, and the record of the federal hearing.

• The district court will then render an opinion, addressing each allegation of error in a written decision. • If the court denies relief, the petitioner may appeal the district court’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
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