The appellate court, or court of appeals, is an important part of many state’s judicial systems. US appellate courts stand as an intermediary between supreme courts and district, county, or superior courts, allowing citizens to have their grievances with a particular judge or court system addressed expediently. Although most people will never stand before an appellate court, it is important for citizens to understand why these courts are crucial and what makes them unique.
What Is an Appellate Court?
US appellate courts are also called “courts of appeals.” These courts hear appeals from people who feel that a decision from a lower court was not fair, constitutional, or otherwise was unjust. State appellate courts generally hear appeals cases from superior courts that are not otherwise subject to further litigation, including judgments of the Superior Courts, condemnation orders, incompetency rulings, restraining orders, termination of parental rights, and more. Civil cases also can be appealed in either state or federal appellate courts. Petitioners can even protest decisions made by juries in many cases.
In general, there are a few factors that must be met in order for an appellate court to agree to hear your case, whether it is a federal or state appellate court. You should have a case that is final and cannot be litigated any further without an appellate court. Further, you should have evidence that your case was mismanaged or that your rights were denied. Last, it is very important to have a lawyer in this type of court. Most appeals that are presented without legal assistance are denied because this particular system is more complicated than normal courts. Appellate courts do not exist to determine whether the judge or jury made the right decision, but rather whether the case was handled well and in a way that preserves the rights of the parties involved.
What Do Appellate Courts Do?
US appellate courts are different from normal courts because there are no juries and because the litigation does not evaluate an accused crime, but rather a court process instead. Both state and federal appellate courts will review a brief presented by the lawyer of the person appealing the case. This brief explains how the prior court process did not happen in a way that is just or constitutional. Judges will decide on whether they want to hear more about this case. If they decide to do so, a date will be set.
Both sets of lawyers will present briefs to the court. Appellate courts are very different from lower courts, where people testify and many questions are asked. In an appellate court, only the justices ask the questions. It is important for lawyers to work with the accused to have their argument persuasively made in written form. The court also will look at records from the case being appealed, including transcripts and presented evidence. Although many different types of cases are successfully appealed, the cases most likely to win are those where the court did not follow due process or where there is new and compelling evidence to be presented.
What Kind of Cases Do Appellate Courts Handle?
One of the best ways to define appellate court is by the kind of cases this court hears. Not just any court case can be heard in these court systems. In general, people who take a case to appeals must already have exhausted all sources of remedy in the normal court systems. Your case there must have a final ruling, with no legal motions to make.
What is an appellate court? In general, one can define appellate courts as a kind of secondary court system. They are there to correct wrongs made by other courts. They stand as an intermediary between citizens and a judicial system that did not follow state or federal constitutional rules about court proceedings. Every citizen deserves to have a fair trial; an appellate court gives you recourse if this did not happen for any reason.
Types of Appellate Court
Because the United States has several different court systems, there are different kinds of appellate courts. It is important to appeal your case in the right kind of court. In general, the main difference is that an appellate court hears cases from the district, county, or state courts while the federal courts have their own court system. People can appeal causes in either a federal or a state appellate court, depending on whether the original case was heard in federal or state court systems.
Both systems have their own unique rules and procedures. For instance, some have just one or a few judges hearing cases while others have twelve. They also have different rules for the form of brief needed to appeal as well as the type of evidence required for an appeal to be sufficient to overturn a lower court’s decisions. In some areas, there are very basic differences, like in what do appellate courts do. These distinctions are part of the reason that most people employ a lawyer who is experienced with the appellate court system when they wish to go through the appeals process.
The appellate court that people are most familiar with is the United States Supreme Court. This is the highest court in the federal system and the one that holds the last word on both criminal and civil matters.
Building a Strong Appellate Case
An appellate court may be a person’s last chance at winning a case. In some instances, they stand between a person and a long prison sentence or other unpleasant consequences. In general, people can take the following types of cases to appellate court:
- Criminal cases, from small infractions to serious felony charges
- Civil lawsuits
- Family court decisions, including matters of custody or parental rights
Every state has different rules for what kinds of cases different an appellate court can hear. For example, in many states, the appellate court system does not hear death penalty cases. These cases instead are heard by the state Supreme Court or other courts that are tasked with the difficult matter of life and death decisions. In other states, an appellate court can hear even very serious matters. The types of cases heard do not define appellate court as much as its position as the last opportunity for those who feel wronged by the court system.
Preparing an appeals case thoroughly is important because the appellate court may be a person’s last chance at achieving justice. In general, the appealing party will need to prove not just that the judgment in their case is wrong, but that the proceedings themselves were wrong. There are several ways that a court case could fail to meet legal standards, such as:
- Evidence entered in your trial was not collected according to legal standards.
- Evidence was entered into your court case that was later proven to be incorrect.
- The lower courts refused to hear evidence that could have changed their decision and this evidence meets the standards for being legally acceptable in courts.
- New evidence has been found since the ruling that changes the way your case would be viewed.
- The judge was unfair to you and did not give you adequate time or opportunity to defend yourself.
- You were assigned a court-ordered lawyer who did not do their job as well as they should have.
- The jury was given incorrect instructions or allowed to hear inadmissible evidence that changed their decision in your case.
- The judge showed obvious and illegal bias against you which led to an unfair judgment or ruling.
There are many ways to build a successful appellate case. First, you and your lawyer will need to study transcripts and different court documents to see what went on behind the scenes at your last court case. Many people are not aware of all of the hearings and discussions that go on in courts. Some of these documents may be evidence that the trial was not conducted according to local, state, and constitutional standards. Second, you will need to look at all evidence that was submitted, including how this evidence was obtained. In many cases, an appellate court has thrown out a conviction or ruling because the evidence was obtained in a way that does not respect a citizen’s constitutional rights.
Last, these documents must be compiled into a brief that describes how your constitutional rights were violated. This brief will be submitted to the appellate court, which may then choose to hear the case.
The appellate court system offers the last chance to people who feel they have been wronged by the court system or deprived of justice. This part of the judicial system ensures that people’s rights are observed in lower courts by overturning cases that were not conducted according to the procedure. While most people will never have to go to an appellate court, this system protects the rights of every American citizen.