What is an Appeal?

The question of what is an appeal is relevant to students of the law, individuals involved in a case and people generally curious about the legal process. An appeal is an intricate yet important mechanism in the legal system. It allows an individual or organization to appeal a judicial ruling that is problematic in the hope a higher court will overturn the verdict.

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The Structure Of The American Court System

The United States court system is an interconnected web of judicial districts that start smaller and then go up to the national level. Federal cases are first tried in district courts, of which there are 94 across all states and territories. The second level consists of the Courts of Appeal, or Appellate Courts. There are 12 of these and their jurisdiction encompasses a specific region consisting of several states. The highest court in America as established by the Constitution is the Supreme Court. Almost every case the Supreme Court hears is on appeal. There are also state court systems. These largely mirror the federal system although their names and the rules governing them vary by state.

When An Appeal Can Be Pursued

An appeal typically cannot be pursued simply because the losing party did not like the verdict. Almost always, there must be a legal basis to challenging the verdict and looking at the case once more. For example, the appeal could argue that racial bias was in play or that a mistake was made in a lower court’s interpretation of the law. It also matters whether the case is a civil or criminal case. For civil cases, either the defendant or the plaintiff can appeal, while in criminal cases usually only the defendant can, according to the American Bar Association. Appeals typically have a time limit on them. Parties usually have around a month or so to submit a request for appeal. Missing deadlines often costs someone the right to appeal their case.

What is an Appeal

Possible Outcomes

A few things could happen when a case is appealed to a higher court. The first is that the higher court may simply decide not to hear the case. This means they agree with the decision handed down by the lower court and essentially have allowed it to stand. The higher court could remand the case back to the lower court for further consideration. Finally, the higher court could overturn the lower court’s ruling. In this case, the now-losing party may choose to appeal, pushing the case to an even higher court.

Is A Special Appeals Lawyer Needed?

Defendants and plaintiffs may need to enlist the services of an attorney specializing in appeals. Even if a case is won, the losing party may appeal, forcing the winning party to need an appeals lawyer too. Appeals are a distinctly different type of law than what occurred in the trial court. Appeals lawyers only work with official records of the previous case – nothing new is considered. The appeals court is essentially considering whether the lower court ruled correctly and an appeals lawyer is uniquely equipped to argue that case. To do this effectively, an appeals lawyer thoroughly understands what is an appeal to help their clients get the best possible outcome.

The ability to appeal serves as an important procedure for the judicial system to correct errors and clarify the law. Aspiring legal professionals, no matter what position they want to hold, need to understand what is an appeal in its entirety.