What is an Appeal?

All About Appeals

There has to be error in fact or in the law

An appeal is a review by a higher court of a lower court’s decision.

Lanigan and Lanigan, P.L. handles appeals and has practiced appeals law in complex business and individual cases. An appeal is a request by a losing party in a lawsuit for a higher court’s review of the decision made in a lower court.

The appeal is asking a higher court to review an already decided case to have a verdict, sentence, conviction changed. There has to be an error made by the lower court as decided by the higher court. However one of four things may happen:

  • The decision may stand
  • The case may be ordered to be reversed and retried by lower court
  • The decision may be reversed and higher court may render decision based on review
  • The case may be returned to lower court for reconsideration and review of an issue

The appellate process takes a long time to complete, usually a year, and is a very specialized practice of law.

Appeals cases have already been decided by a court whether federal, state, city, county, domestic relations, juvenile and probate court, municipal courts, small claims court.  

Who May Appeal What Kind of Case?

The losing party in a federal trial court decision normally has a right to appeal a decision to the next highest court that is the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • Either side may appeal the verdict in a civil court case.
  • The government cannot appeal a “not guilty” verdict although they can appeal the sentence imposed in a criminal case.
  • A defendant may appeal a conviction, and the sentence imposed in a criminal case.

A party taking an appeal from a lower court decision is required to specify the alleged errors which they say that the lower court made in deciding the case. Those errors can involve questions of law and questions of fact. The court of appeal requires that the party who takes the appeal must prove that the lower court was wrong using certain standards.

An Appeal Must Show That a Court Was Wrong

If an alleged error involves a question of fact or a credibility call among witnesses, in general, the court of appeal places a heavier burden on the appealing party to demonstrate that the lower court was wrong. Question of fact or of credibility?

If No Reasonable Factual Basis Exists, the Appeal Court Must Show Error

An appellate court may reverse a lower court’s factual findings, usually, if a record reflects that a reasonable factual basis doesn’t exist for the finding of the trial court. Or, that the record reflects that the finding is wrong.

Findings By Fact

The court of appeal gives great respect to findings of fact by the trial court in those instances.

An appeal in court

Appeals can involve questions of law and questions of fact.

If the court of appeals disagrees with the factual findings of the lower court, or would have decided the case differently with the same facts, the court of appeals may not substitute its own judgment for the judgment of the lower court. It must uphold the lower court’s decision.

If the alleged error of the trial court is an error in the application of the law, the court of appeal doesn’t have to give deference to a lower court’s decision. The court of appeal can decide for itself if the correct law was used to decide the case.

If the court of appeal finds that the appellant has met its burden of demonstrating that the lower court was wrong, it has several options:

  1. It can reverse the lower court’s decision and order that the case be retried applying the correct law.
  2. It can reverse the lower court’s decision and render its decision based on a review of the evidence.
  3. It can return the case to the lower court with instructions to do something differently or to reconsider an issue in light of its findings.

If Damages Are Involved

If the issue on appeal relates to damages, the court of appeals can decrease, increase or affirm the damages awarded by the lower court. In considering this issue, the court reviews previous awards for similar injuries or claims and then determines whether the award of the lower court falls within an acceptable range of verdicts previously rendered on the subject.

If the lower court verdict falls within that range, even if it is on the high side or low side of the range, the court of appeal will affirm the decision of the lower court.