How does an appeal work?

An appeal points out to any legal errors that the judge may have made during the trial. If you want to appeal your case, you have to ask to a higher court to review certain aspects of it.

First of all, a Court Reporter must prepare a “Transcript”, a written record of the trial, which is usually requested by Appellate Attorneys.

Once the Transcripts are ready, it must be filed in the proper Appellate Court along with the brief and any other supporting documents.

As the appellant, you must show that the trial court or administrative agency made a legal mistake that prejudiced your case. For this reason, you have to present a “Brief”, a written document with your legal arguments, in order to persuade the judge.

The brief must explain how the trial judge deprived the appellant of a fair trial.

On the other hand, the appellee, the party defending against your appeal, will file an “Answer Brief”. He will try to show that the trial court decision was correct and your case was not compromised.

Finally, the appellant may file a follow-up brief in rebuttal, also known as “Reply Brief”. This is the appellant’s last chance to explain his/her position and counter any new arguments.

You have a limited time to appeal your conviction or sentence. In some states, you have only 10 days to decide if there are issues that can be appealed. An appeal must be filed within 30-60 days from the date of the decision with no extension to this deadline.

Even if the time frame depends entirely on the state where the trial took place, it is totally jurisdictional: you absolutely cannot miss the deadline or you will forfeit your right to appeal.

Your criminal appeal has to be handled by an experienced appellate attorney, who will prepare conduct legal research, edit legal briefs and preparing for oral arguments. You attorney will file the brief, outlining why you believe your conviction was affected by legal error.

Then, the Federal Court of Appeals will decide whether to affirm or to reverse the trial court’s decision.

The Court of Appeal only wants to know if the trial judge made a mistake, so never looks at any new witness testimony and/or documents.

The Court of Appeal only looks at what was before the trial court, like:

  • the written documents the trial attorneys asked the judge to read
  • the Transcript of the Court Reporter.

Some cases are scheduled for oral arguments before the court, which is a discussion between the appellate lawyers and the judges, focusing on the legal principles in dispute.

Each side is given a short time, usually 15 minutes per side, to a total of 30 minutes to present arguments to the court. This is a very short proceeding. The appellate attorneys have to emphasize their strongest points and to answer any questions the Court may have.

The Court of Appeals decision usually will be the final word in the case, unless it sends the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings, or the parties ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. The Court may issue its decision in average time period of 6 months, but there is no time limit.

In some cases the decision may be reviewed en banc, that is, by a larger group of judges (usually all) of the court of appeals for the circuit. The Court of Appeal never tells the attorneys who won at the oral argument. It will send a written opinion stating who won and on what grounds.