What is an appeal?

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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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In its broadest sense, an “appeal” is a formal request that a higher court re-examine the procedure or decision of a lower court, administrative agency, or other body. An appeal normally may be taken by the party who loses or did not get all the relief sought. If both parties are dissatisfied, each may appeal part of the decision.

After a trial judge sends the parties in a case a copy of the judgment, the parties have 30 days to decide whether or not to appeal the judge’s decision. An appeal is done in cases where you feel the judge made a substantial mistake that seriously affected the outcome of your case. In fact, the body of the appeals brief that your attorney will draft goes over the mistake in detail and argues why the appeals court should change, i.e. – “overturn” the decision. However, it should be noted that the appeals court accepts factual findings made by the jury. Therefore, in order to win an appeal, you must show that there has been an error of law rather than claiming that the jury was mistaken in their interpretation of the evidence that was presented. 

Once the petition is submitted to the court, the parties must wait for their appeal to be placed on the court’s docket. On average, an appeal takes about a year from start to finish.

An appeal hearing is just that, a hearing. The judges will not call any witnesses or even deal directly with the parties of the case. Instead, they use the hearing as a chance to ask attorneys specific questions about the case and why they should decide in their favor. This hearing can seem very intense to a client, so often clients may wait outside the courtroom during the appeal hearing. After the hearing, the judges will review the case once more and come to a decision to either approve the trial court’s finding or reverse it and give instructions for new remedy.

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