How Does the Appeals Process Work?

Photo of the U.S. Supreme CourtAn appeal is a process that the losing party in a lawsuit undertakes to have a lower court or federal administrative agency’s decision overturned by a higher/appellate court.

In civil suits, the verdict may be appealed by either party, and in a bankruptcy case, most of the time a bankruptcy judge’s ruling can be appealed. However, in the case of criminal proceedings, the government is not eligible to pursue an appeal if the defendant is found not guilty, but the defendant is allowed to challenge a guilty verdict.

What Happens During an Appeal?

For any party filing an appeal (the “appellant”), proving that the lower court or federal administrative agency’s verdict was the result of a legal error is the obvious and most important objective.

To accomplish this, the appellant will have to initially present its argument to the court (which will generally consist of a panel of three judges) in writing in the form of a document known as a “brief.” Due to the fact that the court of appeals is only allowed to base its decision on material the lower court or federal agency used in reaching its verdict, the appellant’s brief is limited to using that information in attempting to convince the panel of judges of the merits of its argument. The appellant’s opposition in the lower court case (the “appellee”) is also allowed to present a brief defending the trial’s verdict, i.e., arguing that there was no significant legal error made in the trial that would warrant a reversal of the lower court or federal agency’s decision.

If the briefs are not enough to decide the appeal, an oral argument before the court may be necessary. Once the court of appeals reaches a verdict, it is considered final except if it results in the case returning to the lower court for additional proceedings or the party who lost the appeal files a “writ of certiorari” in an attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court look over the case.

Lawyers That Handle Appeals

There is very little during the appeals process that you will have complete control over, having an attorney on your side who has experience successfully handling appeals is one of them.