Most of the decisions of state or federal trial court or an agency is to be reviewed by the appeals court, including the decisions about most of the kinds of civil cases. Even if the appeal involves the order of the judge or a final judgment entered by the jury, the appeals court reviews what transpired during the proceedings below for any mistakes of the law. When the court determines that there is a mistake that contributed to the decision of the trial court, the appeals court will change that decision. The lawyers for both parties submit briefs to the court and may be given oral argument. When the appeals court reached a decision, the opportunity for further appeals is restricted. The parties filing the appeals increased in the last several years that lead the state and federal to make changes in the system to keep up.
Difference Between Trials and Appeals
The trial and the appeal have certain similarities but they have so much difference. In trials, both parties have to present their cases, call their witnesses for testimony, show some evidence like pictures, documents, surveys, reports, blueprints, diaries, and the like. The jury balances the evidences presented and determines the facts of the case, or what they believe actually had happened. The jury is sometimes referred to as the finder of the facts while the judge regulates and controls the events inside the court room and does the legal decisions like ruling on motions and on objections brought up by the lawyers. The judge is usually called the finder of the law. If both parties selected a bench trial rather than jury trial, the judge will determine the findings of the facts and the findings of the law.
An appeal, on the other hand, reviews the application of the law of the trial court. There is no jury or lawyers present in an appeal. This court accepts the facts as they are showed in the trial court, unless there is a factual finding that is obviously against the weight of the evidences presented.
Other difference between the trail and appeal lies on the number of judges who are involved. One judge presides over the trial, but with an appeal, the case is heard by several judges at once. The number depends on the jurisdiction. During the initial appeals court level, the courts may have between three and several dozens of judges. On bigger courts, full number of judges rarely hears the claims together, but appeals are basically heard by groups or panels which involving three judges. In some cases, full court may reach a decision to give a motion for re-hearing “en banc,” where all the judges involved on the appeals court hear the case together and make a new decision. In Supreme Court, at the state and federal court level, it has to have from5 to 9 judges which is referred to as justices.
Appellate briefs are written form of persuasion on appeal which is filed by the counsel for every party. Through this brief, the party who lost during the trial court argues that the trial judge is mistaken in applying the law. On the other hand, the party who won during the trial proceedings argues that the decision of the court was right. Arguments from both parties attempt to support their positions with their reference to the applicable laws and statutes. The appeal is more academic in its process compared to trial. While the litigator must be an effective strategist in the courtroom, calls witnesses, cross examines the witnesses, makes appropriate motions or objections, while the appellate lawyer creates his/her case in the brief prior to the hearing of the appeal. Usually, these appeals allow short period for oral argument, but judges oftentimes use the entire period with questions for the lawyer based from the briefs submitted.
The “Record” On Appeal
The appeals court decisions turn on the record, the documents of what transpired during the trial proceedings. The record covers
- The plaintiff’s complaint and the answers of the defendant which are simply called pleadings,
- The motions raised during the pre-trial
- The transcript of what happened during the trial
- The exhibits that where displayed as evidence
- Post trial motions
- Any discussion with the judge done as “off the record”
The success of the appeal lies on what transpired during the trial proceedings. When the lawyer fails or is unable to get essential evidence into the record, or to object or argue on something that is prejudicial, the chance of winning the appeal may be lost.
The Appeals Court Decision
The party who lost in the state or federal appeals court may raise their appeal to the state supreme court, or even to the US Supreme Court. Most of the states have their highest court they call “supreme court,” although New York and Maryland call their highest court as Court of Appeals. However, reviews in these courts will depend on the court since these courts are receiving more requests for review than they can handle, hence, they can only grant review to the cases with unsettled questions of law. On the other hand, the US Supreme Court can only review the cases with federal or constitutional issues, and therefore the cases that have issues on state law exclusively are beyond their jurisdiction. Hence, both parties will have their case reviewed once which lessen the tendencies to see the decisions as prejudiced or opposed to the law.