Appealing a Court’s Decision – How Does it Work?


In the U.S. courts system, the party who loses the case has the opportunity to appeal. This applies to personal injury law, criminal law, and civil law. This layman’s informational guide to appealing decisions made by legal courts in the United States is intended to help readers understand when they can appeal a decision and how to do so.

Civil and Criminal

Civil and criminal cases differ in many ways including the appeals process. Criminal law covers acts against society as a whole, such as murder. Civil law covers acts or disputes between two or more individuals or organizations.

According to Justia, “in criminal cases, the process of appealing a lower court’s decision begins with the defendant’s conviction.” If it comes from a guilty plea, generally the defendant does not automatically have the right to appeal. On the other hand, if the defendant received a conviction in a jury trial or by a judge’s decision, they have an absolute right to appeal. Also, death penalty states all allow automatic appeals when the death penalty is involved. The prosecutor cannot appeal an acquittal as this would violate the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

State and Federal Appellate Courts

The legal differences continue between State and Federal Appellate Courts. The losing party in a civil court can appeal to its higher court or in some situations the U.S. Supreme Court. Those who already appealed to a state or federal appeals court can appeal to the state supreme court or the Supreme Court. According to Shein & Brandenburg, “Appellate courts do not try cases, nor do they hear new evidence; they only review the case to make sure the law was followed.”

Case review is at the court’s discretion. The court system remains constantly inundated with appeals requests, so the higher courts tend to only hear cases that involve questions of law. According to Southeast ADA Center, “the U.S. Supreme Court can only hear cases involving a constitutional issue or federal legal issue. To appeal a case that concerns a state’s rights issue or state law, the injured party must appeal to the state supreme court.”

While the law does allow a person to represent themselves, it is a far better choice to obtain a savvy legal representative who has experience in the manner of the case in which you are involved. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney for legal assistance.

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