A trial isn’t always the end of the case. One or both parties may want to appeal part or all of the trial verdict. In addition, they may want to appeal certain aspects of the lower court’s proceedings that they believe may have led the jury or the court to make the wrong decision. The process of asking a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court or an administrative agency is called an appeal. Attorneys who help clients pursue or defend an appeal are called appellate attorneys.
The review process
The appeals court reviews the lower court’s decision to see if they made a mistake. The appeals court doesn’t hold a new trial or accept new evidence. Instead, they look at the record from the lower court. Reviewing the record may involve reading a transcript, looking at pieces of evidence and reviewing the arguments of the parties. In addition, the higher court may hear oral arguments where they have the chance to ask questions of the attorneys arguing the case.
Sometimes, the issues for appeal are obvious. Other times, an attorney needs to know how to spot the issues and evaluate their merits. A skilled appellate law attorney must know how to identify issues that may allow for appeal. When an appeals lawyer advocates for the client bringing the appeal, they prepare the appeal and compile the necessary supporting documents. When they work for the responding party, they prepare and file the necessary response.
Not all appellate work starts in a lower court. A lot of hearings and decisions from both state and federal agencies happen in administrative hearings. For example, if you’re contesting a denial of unemployment benefits, you likely start in front of an administrative hearing officer. The same is true for a hearing on eligibility for food stamp benefits or a hearing challenging a license suspension from your state’s department of motor vehicles.
In most cases, if you don’t like the decision of the hearing officer, you have the right to bring an action in a court to review the decision. Sometimes, the judicial branch conducts a completely new trial with evidence. In other cases, they review the administrative record. Both of these types of hearings fall under appellate law.
The purpose of higher courts
Appellate courts exist for several reasons. First, lawmakers want citizens to have uniform justice throughout a state or throughout the country. They don’t want any individual judge to act as a king. Having an appeals process gives a litigant somewhere to go when the lower court doesn’t make the correct decision. The appeals process gives the trial judges a reason to follow the laws. Judges aren’t allowed to simply make up whatever law they feel is fair at the time.
In addition, judges sometimes make honest mistakes. The higher courts can step in and correct these errors. The opportunity to correct errors gives litigants access to justice and a more fair and uniform rule of law.
Finally, higher courts exist to interpret laws in ways that impact society as a whole. When a court’s ruling might be one that’s significant to a large segment of the population or it’s a very important issue for even a few people, the higher courts may want to step in and set policy. Then, the lower courts can take the policy and apply it accordingly in future decisions.