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Judicial Review

Appellate Procedure

The structure of state court systems varies widely. Some states have separate civil and criminal trial courts, and some have more than one level of appellate review. Typically, however, aside from special courts of limited jurisdiction, a three-tier structure can be discerned: the trial court level, the appellate level, and the state supreme court, which mirrors that of the federal system of district courts, courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court.

The appeals procedure is similar for both the state and federal courts of appeals as well as with the state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. With some exceptions, appeal is allowed only after final judgment in a case. After the final judgment in a case is rendered, the losing party may believe he or she lost the case because the law was not properly applied or that procedural rules were not properly followed. The person may then file for an appeal. Appeals must be commenced within a specified time from the delivery of final judgment.

The appealing party, now called the appellant or sometimes the plaintiff in error, now must file a brief in support of the claim of error, which will state the applicable facts of the case and of law and an argument supporting the contention of error. Specific rules, which may vary depending on the court and jurisdiction, must be followed as to the form and length of the brief. A complete record of the case must be sent to the appellate court, which will include a complete transcript of the trial, the verdict, and the final judgment entered. The opposing party in the case, now called the appellee, is notified of the intent to appeal and also files a brief in response. At this point the case is scheduled for oral argument.

After the court has reviewed the record and the briefs and heard oral argument, it makes its ruling in the form of a written opinion setting forth its decision and the legal reasoning behind it. Most lower court decisions are unanimously affirmed by appellate courts. If error is found, the appellate court may reverse the decision, modify it, or remand (return) it to the lower court for further proceedings. If the judgment is affirmed, the appellant may seek an appeal in a higher court. If there is no higher court except the state or federal court of last resort, any appeal is only at the discretion of that court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesJudicial Review - Definition, The Functions Of Judicial Review, Appellate Procedure, Appeals To The U.s. Supreme Court