An appellate court, also called an appeals court, or a court of appeals, is a court of law in the State or Federal judicial court system that has the power to hear appeals of judgments issued in a trial court.
In most State court systems, and in the Federal court system, the courts are divided into three basic levels. The first is the trial court (sometimes an administrative agency), which is where lawsuits, petitions, and criminal prosecutions are first brought. The second level is the intermediate appellate court, which in most States and in the Federal system is called the Court of Appeals. The intermediate appellate court is above the trial court, and has the authority to review decisions and judgments of the trial court judge. The third, and highest level of the court system is the State Supreme Court, and in the Federal system, is the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the power to review judgments of both the trial court and the intermediate appellate court. Both the intermediate appellate court and the Supreme Courts are appellate courts.
The appellate courts have the power and authority to review the decisions of the trial court, and any judgment won in the trial court. The appellate court will review those decisions for legal or factual errors, and have the power to change the decision or judgment of the trial court. This is called a reversal or a modification. When an appellate court reverses or modifies a decision or judgment of a trial court, they send the case back to the trial court to correct the error. This is called remanding the case. Cases can be remanded for a new trial, for a new decision on a motion, for dismissal of the case, or for a new sentence to be imposed or for a new money judgment to be awarded.
The jurisdiction, or power and authority, of an appellate court varies widely depending upon the State and depending upon what type of case is brought up on appeal.
Appellate courts can review a decision or judgment from a trial court, or a lower appellate court, for a number of different reasons. They can review the case for errors made by the trial judge, such as legal rulings, rulings on evidence, decisions on motions, and decisions made during the course of a trial on procedure, such as jury instructions. In some States, the appellate court can also review the evidence and determine whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence – meaning, whether the jury arrived at the wrong conclusion based upon the testimony and the evidence. Appellate courts also have the power to review the sentence imposed by the trial judge after a conviction or the amount of money awarded by a jury in a lawsuit.
Generally, there is a right to appeal to an intermediate appellate court from a decision or a judgment of a trial court. The intermediate appellate court must accept the case if there is a right to appeal. This is called an "appeal as of right." The appeals court cannot reject the case unless there has been a valid waiver
On the other hand, generally there is no right to appeal to a Supreme Court. In most instances, the State's highest court, and the United States Supreme Court, have the authority to reject any case they do not want to decide. This is because those appellate
courts are courts of discretionary jurisdiction. They have the discretion to pick and choose which cases to take, and which to reject. The cases those courts take are usually limited to cases of great importance that will impact many others, or decide unsettled legal issues to provide uniformity of the law in the entire State or the United States.
What types of cases are tried in Federal court?
The United States District Courts are the trial courts in the Federal court system. They have jurisdiction, or the power and authority to hear, of civil and criminal cases arising under Federal law. This is called Federal Question jurisdiction. In some cases, a Federal court can hear a civil lawsuit brought only under state law. This is called diversity jurisdiction.
In addition to Federal District Courts, there are other specialized Federal trial courts. They include the Bankruptcy court, which has the limited authority to hear bankruptcy cases and claims related to the bankruptcy case, the Court of International Trade, which resolves disputes arising under international law, and the Court of Federal Claims, which determines specific claims against the United States Government.
In the Federal District Courts, lawsuits can be brought one of two ways. First, the case or controversy arises under Federal law or the Federal Constitution. A common example is a lawsuit brought under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of Federal civil rights under the United States Constitution. In a § 1983 lawsuit, the plaintiff sues a governmental agency or government employee for a legally-recognized violation of the civil rights. For example, if a police officer arrests someone and uses excessive force in making the arrest, such as beating or striking the person, using a Tazer, pepper spray, or a baton, and that force is unauthorized, the person may sue for a violation of the Federal civil rights under § 1983. Another example is a lawsuit for discrimination under Federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment situations. In this example, if a person is denied an employment opportunity on the basis of race, gender, age, or a number of other factors, they may sue the employer in Federal court for a violation of Federal anti-discrimination laws.
Another way a civil lawsuit can be brought in Federal court is through diversity jurisdiction. That is when two people who are residents of different states have a dispute that arises under state law, or common law, and the amount in dispute is more than $75,000.00.
Federal District Courts also have admiralty or maritime jurisdiction. This includes both civil lawsuits for disputes related to shipping on the ocean, contracts involving shipping, and crimes occurring on the high seas.
In criminal prosecutions, people who are alleged to violate the Federal criminal code are prosecuted in the United States District Court. The prosecutor, called the United States Attorney, presents a case to a Federal Grand Jury, which decides if there is enough evidence to charge a person with a Federal felony or misdemeanor offense. If the Grand
Jury votes to indict, or formally charge the person, the United States Attorney files an Indictment in the District Court, and the case is tried in that court. One of the most common types of Federal criminal cases tried in the District Courts are violations of the Federal drug laws. Other common Federal criminal prosecutions include violations of Federal firearms laws, Medicare fraud, Medicaid fraud, and tax fraud.
When cases are tried in Federal court, they must be tried according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for civil cases, or according to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for criminal cases. Whether the case is civil or criminal, Federal District Judges are required to follow the Federal Rules of Evidence, which governs how testimony and evidence is received in a Federal trial. All cases must also follow the basic rules of the United States Constitution.