How Does A Legal Appeal Work?

Legal attorney

We’ve all seen it on TV: Someone is shocked by the outcome of a trial and vows to appeal. Or a criminal “loses his last appeal.” But how does the criminal appeals process actually work?

When Can Someone Appeal?
Contrary to popular opinion, someone can’t appeal just because he or she didn’t like the outcome of the trial. According to the American Bar Association, “There usually must be a legal basis for the appeal—an alleged material error in the trial—not just the fact that the losing party didn’t like the verdict.” Basically, one can appeal only if they show that the previous court did something substantially wrong (minor “harmless errors” may not be cause for an appeal), not by attempting to show the previous court made the wrong decision. In criminal cases, the prosecution generally can’t appeal because it constitutes double jeopardy, or trying someone for the same crime twice.

How Do Appeals Courts Work?
An appeals case begins when the petitioner files a notice of appeal. Both sides then file briefs, or summaries of their viewpoints. The exact process after that may vary. Sometimes the court will make a decision based only on the briefs, or decide that the judges need to hear oral arguments. Based on these, the appellate judges decide whether to uphold the lower court’s decision, which ends the case, or remand it. The trial court can then initiate a new trial or modify the previous trial’s judgment.

What Is an Appellate Attorney ?
If you’re interested in filing an appeal, it’s important to find a criminal appeals attorney. Because the process varies quite a bit from initial trials—it’s not just a retrial—a criminal appeals attorney has the more narrow focus to help you demonstrate the errors made by the lower court. There are both specific law firms for appeals, or specialized criminal lawyers within other law firms who can help you navigate the process.

Is There Any Further Recourse?
Federal appeal attorneys can provide the best advice to someone who has exhausted their options in their state. The final recourse afforded to anyone who has been convicted in state court is to file a writ of habeas corpus. This is directed at the federal government and attempts to demonstrate a violation of Constitutional rights during the trial process. Read this for more.

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