What is an Appeal?
It might make sense to start with what an appeal isn't. An appeal isn't a new trial. An appeal is where the facts and evidence can be reargued to a different outcome. An appeal isn't a "redo" where your attorney didn't get it right the first time. An appeal isn't a chance to add new details or try a new strategy to win the original case. Although an appeal can lead to a chance to retry the case, it is not itself a trial.
What is an Appeal and why do I need an Appellate Lawyer?
An appeal can be best described as a review of the decisions of a lower court and a chance to determine how those decisions led to the current outcome. The decisions of the court and the actions of attorneys during the trial can lead to several different outcomes in the appeal. The mere presence of errors in trial may not lead to a successful appeal. The errors raised on appeal must be of a nature that they affected the outcome of the underlying trial. The main goal of an appeal is the reversal of the lower court ruling.
why do I need an Appellate Lawyer?
An appeal is quite a bit more formal than one might think. The attorney for the party that is appealing, called the appellant, crafts a document called a brief. The brief outlines all of the errors made during trial, framed in such a manner that the appeals court will side with the appellant against the appellee. The appellee in a criminal case is usually the defendant, but can also be the plaintiff. In a civil case the appellee can be either the plaintiff or the defendant. The other party in the appeal is the appellee. The appellee seeks to have the decision of the lower court affirmed, that is, held up. In a criminal appeal the appellee is almost always the government in the form of a District Attorney or State Attorney. The appellee has a chance to reply to the brief filed by the appellant. This reply to the appeal brief is aptly called a reply brief. The reply brief explains to the appeals court why the decision of the lower court should stand.
Each state has different procedures for appeal. Most often there is a right to appeal once as a matter of law. This appeal is to an intermediate level appellate court. In Florida this is the District Court of Appeals, or DCA. Appeals beyond the District Court of Appeals such as to the Florida Supreme Court are called discretionary appeals. This means that there is no right to appeal. Instead the Supreme Court could decide to hear the appeal or not. The brief writing process can lead to trial-like appeals hearings such as an evidentiary hearing or oral argument. The appeals courts don't always have enough information to decide just on the briefs and must gather additional information before deciding an appeal.
Each state has different timelines within which an appeal must be filed. Some states even have different appeals timelines for misdemeanors and felonies. Appeals begin with a 'notice of appeal' that is filed after the conclusion of the trial. Appeals are considered timely when the 'notice of appeal' is filed within the state's statutory limits.
Upon filing the 'notice of appeal' you will need to gather the 'record on appeal.' The 'record on appeal' is the series of documents that were presented to the court combined with the transcript. The transcript is the typewritten account that the court reporter created at trial and relevant hearings. The transcript is vital to the appeal since we can't add new information at this point. The appeal is constrained by the 'record on appeal.' If something isn't a part of the official court record then it won't be part of the appeal.
The appeals court uses the briefs to determine whether, based on the information presented at trial, the trial court erred and the judgment should be reversed on appeal.
One important note about the appeals process is that this isn't the time for analyzing the mistakes made by your attorney at trial. Those trial mistakes are better suited for review, perhaps, in a post-conviction relief motion.
While the goal of an appeal is the have the decision of the lower court reversed, there can be several different outcomes. A case can be affirmed, which means that the appeals court allows the verdict of the trial court to stay. A case can be reversed which may lead to a new trial. A case can also be remanded to the trial court for a decision consistent with the appeals court ruling.
The technical nature of the appellate process and the extensive research and writing involved in appeals briefs makes the appeals process something that should be discussed with an appeals attorney. An experienced appeals lawyer can effectively scour through volumes of trial transcripts, often hundreds or thousands of pages in length, and quickly spot issues most likely to lead to successful appeal and ideally reversal.
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