Winning a case in court means very little if the appeal is lost.
An appeal is, in general, a request to a higher appellate court to review and change the decision of the lower court where the decision was originally made. Usually, an appeal is limited to the record that was created in the lower court. The party that is complaining about what happened cannot introduce any new evidence. Also, the complaining party, or appellant, is limited to what was said or entered into evidence at the original hearing.
Any issue that was not raised at trial usually is prohibited from being raised in the appeal. The appellate court will review the lower court’s legal application of the law and facts that were presented at the trial. Any actual findings by the judge or jury at the trial level are generally not reversible by the appellate court unless the original judge “abused their discretion”, which is a very difficult legal burden to meet.
The appellate court will decide if there were errors serious enough to create an unfair trial. In certain circumstances, the appellate court will determine that there was insufficient evidence at trial to support the lower court’s decision. When a trial judge properly applies the law, the appellate court will not overturn the judge’s decision.
Both civil and criminal cases can be appealed, although the processes for each can be quite different. Any criminal defendant that wants to overturn a guilty verdict must appeal. A defendant can challenge the conviction itself or may appeal the trial court’s sentencing decision without challenging the underlying conviction. However, it is not enough to state that a decision is “unfair” or “wrong”. Generally it must be proven that specific legal errors were made in a trial or hearing.
Depending upon the type of legal error that an appellant is complaining about there are different “Standards of Review” that an appellate court will use in evaluating whether or not to overturn a particular decision. Some standards of review make getting an appellate court to overturn a decision almost impossible and some standards of review make getting a reversal much more possible.
In most cases, only one appeal is permitted so it can be very important to do it correctly the first time. Filing an appeal can be very dangerous for an individual that does not have a deep understanding of the appellate process. If an appeal is filed and a “point of error” is not brought up or if it is not properly presented it can be lost forever.
There are generally deadlines that must be met in order to appeal. Some can be extended and some are strict. Many appeals that might have merit are not considered because they are filed too late. Also, there are very strict rules that must be followed and even when appeals are filed in time if certain rules are not followed then an appellate court will not even consider the arguments that are made.