What Are Appeals & How Can They Help Me?


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Article by Kelley Durham

Photography by Ekaterina Bolovtsova

Appeals, appeals, appeals! This common term is thrown around in your favorite criminal justice and law shows – but what actually is an appeal & why should you care about them? As defined on the US Courts official website, an appeal is when “the losing party in a decision by a trial court in the federal [or civil] courts appeals the decision to a federal [or civil] court of appeals.” This means if you lose in court, you can ask the courts to reconsider their decision. However, you can’t just appeal a case for no reason. In civil courts, either party may request an appeal and the person who initiated the appeal must be able to provide reputable evidence surrounding the reason. It is important to note that an appeal is not a retrial and most of the time, appeal courts do not accept new witnesses or evidence to be entered. 

When putting in an appeal, the appellant (the party who requested the appeal) must send in a written statement explaining their reasoning for the appeal, as well as the legal grounding behind it. The appellee (the other party) has a specific time frame in which they must respond. Once they have responded, the appellant may put in one last answering brief. Depending on the appeal court in which you are filing, some will go only off of written briefs whereas others will request an oral argument prior to making their decision. As well, either party may request an oral argument.

The verdict of the appeal is dependent upon the courts of appeal and typically, verdicts are only reversed due to incorrect application of the law. With that being said, whether the incorrect application of the law was substantial enough to alter the verdict is at the discretion of the appellate courts. If the mistake was deemed minor and it is decided that it did not alter the jury’s decision, the court can deny the appeal. Typically, the court will give a written decision once a majority agrees on a verdict. If the courts decide that the appellant was correct and the judgment has been reversed, further action will be taken by lower courts. There are a few options once this happens – the courts may accept new evidence or review the case, the verdict may be modified without further evidence, or a new trial may be held. 

Appeals can definitely be confusing, however, they are a very helpful tool for those who feel they have been wronged by a judge’s verdict. This is just one of the many ways that courts keep up with their checks and balances – ensuring that justice is served.

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