What is an Appeal?

What is an Appeal?

April 14, 2022

You’ve probably heard the term “appeals” tossed around in different contexts; perhaps you have been involved in litigation, or maybe you heard a TV show lawyer shout across the courtroom, “we’ll appeal it!” But appeals can be a complex and nuanced process, unlike what you may see on TV. So we’ve outlined what appeals are and what the appeals’ process looks like. 

What is an Appeal?

An appeal is when a party to a case asks a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court. The party filing the appeal is called the appellant or petitioner, while the other party is the appellee or respondent. Usually, the appealing party must have some legal basis for the appeal—like that the judge improperly applied the law or that a mistake was made in the proceedings—not just that they didn’t like the judgment or decision of the lower court. 

An appeal is not a retrial or a new trial of the case. The appellate court doesn’t usually accept new evidence or new witnesses. Instead, the court reviews whether there were errors in the trial proceedings or in the judge’s application of law to the case. And, unlike a trial, which would involve a single judge and often a jury, an appeal is only considered by a panel of several judges with no jury.

In a civil case, either party has the right to appeal. For example, a party may appeal a judgment even if the court decided in their favor if they believe they were entitled to a larger monetary award. In a criminal case, only the defendant has the right to appeal in a guilty verdict. The government may not appeal if the defendant is found not guilty. This is because the U.S. Constitution prohibits double jeopardy, which means being tried twice for the same crime. But either side in a criminal case may appeal the sentence that is implemented after a guilty verdict. 

The U.S. has a dual court system, meaning that there are both federal and state courts. Whether a case is heard in federal or state court depends on jurisdiction and the basis for the lawsuit. Decisions are appealed from the court where the case begins. So if a case began in a state trial court, then an appeal would remain in a state appellate court. The same is true for cases brought in federal court. In some limited circumstances, cases decided by the Indiana Supreme Court can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Appeal Process

Each state has slightly different rules and procedures directing how a case moves through its court system. Usually, a case ascends from the trial courts to the appellate courts, and finally to the state’s supreme court  

If a party is unsatisfied with the decision of a trial court, then the party could begin the appeal process. Keep in mind that these steps are a general outline of what occurs at the state and federal levels. The process will be nuanced depending on which state or court the case is in.

  1. After receiving a decision or judgment from the trial court, the appellant will file a notice of appeal with the court of appeals.
  2. The appealing party then needs to file a brief within a set deadline. A brief is the primary way to present information to the appellate court. The brief is a written argument addressing that party’s view of the facts and why the party is seeking a reversal of the trial court’s decision. It does not present new information to the court, only a review of the trial court’s case, though the brief generally refers to evidence, testimony, and transcripts from the lower court.
  3. Once the appellant files its brief, the appellee then has a specified amount of time to file a responding brief. The appellant may then file a reply brief addressing the appellee’s arguments. 
  4. Often, the appellate court makes a decision purely based on the written briefs. Other times, the court will hear oral arguments before deciding a case. In an oral argument, the lawyer for each party has an opportunity to briefly present their case orally and to answer the judges’ questions. Generally, in both state and federal appellate courts, the lawyers are usually allotted only 10-15 minutes to speak and receive questions.
  5. The appellate court will then issue a ruling deciding whether the appellant presented a valid reason for overturning the lower court’s decision or judgment. The appellate court’s decision is sometimes the final word on the case, but often it will remand the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.  
  6. If a party is not satisfied with the verdict, they may appeal the case to the state supreme court or, in federal cases, to the Supreme Court of the United States. The supreme courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning that they get to decide which cases they’ll hear. Typically, they only hear cases where they disagree with the lower court’s ruling, or where they want to provide guidance on unsettled law.
  7. If the supreme court accepts an appeal, it will review the parties’ briefs and submissions, and may hear oral argument. Eventually, it will issue a ruling on the case, though these decisions often take longer than those issued by lower courts. 

There is no doubt that the appeal process can be complex and confusing. Seeking qualified legal counsel to assist you in your case is key to a successful appeal. 

Contact the appeals lawyers at Jones Obenchain for more information on how we can help you!