In law, not everyone is a winner. Every case that goes to trial carries an inherent risk of failure. Luckily, the legal system has a built-in safety net called an appeal. The word appeal is thrown around a lot on the news and on TV shows. However, as often as it is used it remains a commonly misunderstood legal term. If you have lost a case at trial and are considering an appeal, make sure you know what you are getting into. Learn about the basic structure of an appeal and how it can affect the outcome of your case.
An Appeal is Not a Trial
The difference between a trial and appeal is an important distinction to understand. The trial phase is the stage where the case is presented in its entirety. This is where you and your experienced attorney will present evidence, such as witness testimony, videos, contract documents, pictures and audio recordings. You may also use expert testimony to further prove your case. During a trial, the opposing side will make arguments and present evidence to prove it believes is true. Both sides will also have the opportunity to question each other's witnesses, and attack pieces of evidence. At the end, the jury will decide which facts are to be held as the truth.
Trials involve a single judge who oversees the proceedings. In a jury trial, the judge does not decide which facts are true. However, the judge may make rulings on whether some types of evidence are inadmissible. Overall, a judge's role in a trial is similar to that of a referee. The judge makes sure the case is presented in accordance with law. Yet, the judge does not make the final determination of the case.
An appeal is basically the review of a case by a higher court. Unlike in a trial, an appeals court does not go over all the issues of a case. Instead, the court will look at certain parts of the case where a litigant claims an error occurred. The appeals court will not consider rehear any evidence nor consider new evidence. In most situations, the court is required to accept the facts determined at the trial as true. Therefore, the judges' role is to find out if a reversible error occurred.
One more major difference between appeals and trials involves the judges. In a trial, there is one judge. In an appeal, the board of judges usually hears the case. When a final decision is made as to whether a reversible error exists, the court will remand the case to the trial court. This means that the trial court may be responsible for retrying the case another time. In the case that an appeal case is lost, you may have the opportunity to seek yet another appeal from a higher court.
The appeals process is complex and should be done with the aid of an experienced lawyer. Contact Terry Spencer for help with filing an appeal and creating an appellate brief.