What are the rules for federal appeals?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The United States Statutes and the Federal Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure set forth some of the general rules for federal appeals. Each of the eleven circuits also has its own rules that detail additional requirements for a federal appeal. Many of the rules for a federal appeal are very technical, even down to the size of the type and the width of the margins of the various required legal paperwork.

Timeliness of Federal Appeals


One of the most important rules that appeals lawyers remember is the timeline and limits for appeals. The timeline starts once a judgment is entered by the trial court judge. The aggrieved, or losing party, has exactly 30 days from the date of the federal appeals judgment to file the appeal with the district clerk. If anyone is planning on joining or contributing to the appeal, they have 14 days after the initial filing to file their contribution. The opposing party has 30 days after they are served to respond to the appeal.

Proper Drafting of Federal Appeals


The appeals court reviews an inordinate amount of cases annually. To make their workload realistic, appeals lawyers are limited to a specific amount of pages, font size, and spacing for their drafts. For instance, the 9th circuit requires that briefs are double spaced, 13 point font and no more than 20 pages.

Federal Appeals Hearings


Unlike the initial trial court proceeding, the job of the federal appeals court is to determine proper matters of law. This means that the federal appeals court does not hear any witnesses or make decisions about evidence. Instead, the federal appeals court reviews the entire record as well as the arguments and merely use the hearing as a means of gaining specific information from the appeals lawyers.

Federal Appeal Decisions


The decisions by the federal appeals court will be one of three. First, they may decide to uphold the trial court’s decision. In this case, they will order the judgment be paid. They may decide that the trial court made a mistake and change the judgment. In these cases, the federal appeals court will order a reversal of the trial court’s decision. Finally, they may decide that there was a mistake of judgment with regard to the handling of evidence. In those cases, the federal appeals court will order a retrial.

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