How Appeals Work

The appeals process allows a losing party in a trial court decision to have their case re-tried again. Some decisions by federal administrative agencies are also subject to appeals. Both parties are able to appeal in a civil case, but the government is prohibited from appealing not guilty verdicts in criminal cases. However, either party may appeal the sentence issued in the case of a guilty verdict. Bankruptcy appeals in some districts may be handled by a separate appellate committee of bankruptcy judges.

To begin the appeals process, the losing party in the prior case files a claim stating that the trial court committed legal errors that had an impact on the case's decision. The appellee then files their own written brief attempting to show that the trial court's decision was the right one or that the claimed error had no actual effect on the decision. No additional evidence is provided to the appellate court and no witnesses may be heard. The entire review process is based on the record of the case as heard in the prior court. The appellate court does have authority to review any facts in the trial, but usually cannot overturn any decision on factual grounds unless the initial findings are shown to be "clearly erroneous."

The written briefs may be sufficient for the appellate court to come to a decision or it may require an oral argument before the judges. A panel of three judges preside over each appellate court. The oral argument period is brief, generally only 15 minutes, and each party is given equal time to make their case to the appellate panel. The decision made by the appellate court is typically the final judgment for that particular case, unless it is appealed to the Supreme Court. Appellate courts also have the authority to send a case back to the trial court for a re-trial to correct the legal errors.

Even if the appellate court denies the claim, it may not be the end of the appeals process. Some significant cases may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by filing for a writ of certiorari. Supreme Court review is generally limited to cases involving differences in legal interpretation between two or more federal appellate courts or if the case involves a particularly important legal concept. A few specific situations require the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, but these are very limited in scope.

If you feel your case was improperly concluded, consult with an Attorney about filing for appeal today.