Expert Analysis: Inside The Appellate Court and How Appeals Work in Practice

Expert Analysis: Inside The Appellate Court and How Appeals Work in Practice

Facing an unfavorable court decision can be confusing. Appeals give a chance to challenge this outcome. This blog will guide you through the appellate court process, showing how decisions from lower courts are reviewed.

Key Takeaways

  • Appellate courts review decisions from lower courts without starting new cases. They make sure the law was applied right.
  • The appeals process includes reviewing records, preparing briefs, oral arguments, and then getting a court's opinion. There are strict steps to follow for each type of case like civil or criminal.
  • Detailed written documents called briefs help explain each side's arguments to the judges. Both sides can also talk directly to the judges during oral arguments.
  • After looking at everything, appellate judges decide if there were errors in the trial that could change the outcome. If they find mistakes, they can reverse the decision or ask for more actions in lower courts.
  • For further review beyond appellate courts, parties can request higher courts like the U.S. Supreme Court or state supreme courts to take a look at their case through specific petitions.


Understanding the Appellate Court

After getting a basic grasp of the appeals world, it's time to dive deeper into how appellate courts function. These courts don't start fresh cases; they review decisions from lower courts like trial or district courts.

Their main job is to check if there were any mistakes in applying the law. Three experienced judges usually sit on a panel to hear these reviews. They look at legal arguments presented in written briefs and sometimes listen to oral presentations from both sides.

Appellate courts focus on rules and procedures specific to different types of cases, such as criminal or civil matters. This ensures that every case gets a fair review based on its unique details.

The goal here is clear: make sure the original trial was carried out properly according to the law's standards without introducing new evidence or witnesses' stories.

The Appeals Process

The appeals process involves several key stages, including reviewing the record, preparing briefs, presenting oral arguments, and receiving the court's opinion. Different types of appeals exist for civil cases, criminal cases, bankruptcy cases, and others.

Furthermore, frequently asked questions about appealing cover topics such as what rulings are appealable and how to file an appeal.

The Record

The record is a complete set of all documents, evidence, and transcripts from the trial court. It gets sent to the appeals court for review. This includes exhibits shown during the case and everything said in court.

The appellate judges look at these files closely to decide if there were errors that could change the outcome.

Creating the record starts soon after filing a notice of appeal. Lawyers must gather every piece of paper and recording that was part of their case. They also check that nothing is missing or left out.

This step ensures that appellate judges have full details to make their decisions based on facts and law, not new evidence or arguments.

Preparation of the Briefs

After gathering all the needed records, attention turns to crafting the briefs. Lawyers for both sides prepare detailed arguments in these documents. They explain why the court should either change or keep the decision from before.

The appellant's brief argues mistakes were made that affected the trial's outcome. In response, the appellee defends why those decisions were right.

Briefs are key because they present each side’s points clearly to three judges who will decide on the appeal. These documents must contain facts from the trial, legal reasons to support their stance, and references to past court decisions that back up their argument.

Crafting a strong brief needs care and skill since it shapes how judges understand your position.


A well-argued brief can turn the tide of an appeal.


Oral Argument

Transitioning from the preparation of briefs to oral argument, it's important to note that this is a crucial part of the appeals process. Here, both the appellant and appellee present their legal arguments directly to the judges.

During this phase, judges can ask questions to clarify legal points from both parties before making their decision.

The oral argument aids the appellate court in evaluating if there were errors in applying the law at the lower court level. By listening directly to all parties involved and asking relevant questions, judges are able to gain a deeper understanding of the case which can impact their final ruling.

The Court's Opinion

The court's opinion is the decision made by the appellate court regarding the case. It outlines whether the lower court made errors in applying the law and if those errors affected the outcome of the case.

Generally, a trial court is reversed only for an error of law. The appeals process allows parties to appeal to a federal court of appeals when they lose in a federal trial court, seeking clarification or reversal of decisions based on legal errors.

Further Review

After the appellate court issues its opinion, there are options for further review. In federal courts, a party can request review by the U.S. Supreme Court through a petition called "writ of certiorari." This allows the Supreme Court to consider the case.

The decision on whether or not to hear the case is solely at the discretion of the Supreme Court justices.

In state courts, a losing party may also have an opportunity for further appeal to their respective state's highest court. If granted, this allows for another level of review beyond the appellate court's decision, providing additional opportunities for legal arguments and interpretations of laws specific to that state's jurisdiction.

Types of Appeals

There are various types of appeals, including those related to civil cases, criminal cases, bankruptcy cases, and other specific categories. Each type of appeal has its unique set of procedures and regulations that significantly influence the overall process.

Civil Case

In civil cases, if a party disagrees with the decision of the trial court, they can appeal to a higher court. The appeal doesn't usually stop the lower court's judgment from being enforced.

However, the appealing party may file an appeal or supersedeas bond to pause further action on the judgment pending the appeal process.

By doing this, parties involved in civil cases have a chance for their case to be reviewed by an appellate court and potentially have the lower court's decision changed. This can provide assurance that all legal options are explored thoroughly before concluding a civil case.

Criminal Case

Appeals in criminal cases allow the party who lost in a federal trial court to challenge the decision in a federal court of appeals. Different rules apply for appeals in criminal cases compared to civil and bankruptcy cases.

The process involves presenting legal arguments and defending decisions, ultimately leading to a written decision by the appellate court judges.

Bankruptcy Case

Bankruptcy cases have specific rules for appeals, and they can be reviewed by a court of appeals or district court. The losing party in a bankruptcy case can request the Supreme Court to review the case by filing a petition for a "writ of certiorari.".

Other Types

Beyond civil, criminal, and bankruptcy cases, other types of appeals may also arise. These can include administrative decisions made by federal agencies or matters related to alternative dispute resolution.

Each type presents its own set of rules and procedures within the appellate court process.

While civil, criminal, and bankruptcy cases are often the focus in legal discussions about appeals, it's important to recognize that a broader range of issues can come before an appellate court.

FAQs on the Appeals Process

What can be appealed? The process for filing an appeal, and the time limit to file it.

What rulings are appealable?

Only final rulings, judgments, and orders are appealable. This means that intermediate decisions within a case cannot be appealed until the entire case is finalized. The losing party has the right to appeal if they believe there was an error in the trial or that their rights were violated.

In civil cases, either party can appeal but in criminal cases, only the defendant can typically file an appeal.

In bankruptcy cases, some orders related to relief from stay and similar matters are also termed as "final" for purposes of appeal. These different types of cases have specific rules for appeals.

How to file an appeal?

Filing an appeal involves submitting a formal request to a higher court, usually after an unfavorable ruling in the lower court. The process typically requires completing specific forms and adhering to strict deadlines set by the court.

It's crucial to closely follow all guidelines for filing appeals, including preparing written briefs that outline the legal arguments supporting the appeal. Moreover, requesting oral argument before the appellate judges offers an opportunity to present case details verbally.

After these steps, the appellate court will review all presented information and issue a decision.

What is the time limit to file an appeal?

The time limit to file an appeal differs based on the type of case. For civil cases, the appellant usually has 30 days from the date of judgment to file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the trial court.

In criminal cases, it's generally within 10 days after the entry of judgment or order being appealed. Bankruptcy cases typically require appeals to be filed within 14 days from when the final judgment is entered.

These limits are crucial, as missing them can result in forfeiting one's right to appeal. Therefore, it's important for parties involved in a case to be aware of and adhere to these deadlines.


The appellate court plays a crucial role in the legal system. It's where appeals are reviewed and decisions made on errors in applying the law. Different types of cases have specific rules for appeals, and most appeals are final, while some may be sent back for additional proceedings or reviewed by higher courts.

Understanding the appeals process is essential, as it provides clarity on how legal disputes can be resolved at a higher level after a trial court decision.


1. What is an appellate court?

An appellate court reviews decisions made by lower courts like circuit courts to ensure the law was applied correctly.

2. How do you start an appeal?

To start an appeal, you file a formal brief or sometimes an informal brief with the higher court, often after getting leave to appeal.

3. Can all cases be appealed to the Supreme Court of Maryland?

Not all cases go directly to the Supreme Court of Maryland; some need an application for leave to appeal from intermediate appellate courts first.

4. What are grounds for appeal?

Grounds for appeal include legal errors, like wrong jury instructions or if someone was found not criminally responsible but proved otherwise.

5. What does it mean when a case is remanded?

When a case is remanded, it's sent back to the trial judge for further action according to instructions from the appellate court.

6. Is there help for people representing themselves in appeals?

Yes, self-represented litigants can find guidelines and may seek mediators' help during their appeals process in U.S. Courts.