By: Alan Freed
We recently had a rare opportunity to hear oral argument in a court of appeals on national media. Although this argument came about under very unusual circumstances, it may have caused you to wonder about what goes on when you appeal your case. Here are a few things you might want to know about appeals:
- Anyone whose case goes to trial has the right to appeal the trial judge’s decision. In Missouri, those appeals go to the Missouri Court of Appeals, which operates in three districts: Eastern, with the main courtroom in St. Louis; Western, in Kansas City; and Southern, in Springfield.
- An appeal is NOT a second bite of the apple. An appeal will not give you the opportunity to present evidence that was not presented at the trial or to put on additional witnesses or to say the things in your testimony that you intended to say but were too nervous to remember. The court of appeals is a “reviewing court,” meaning that its role is limited to looking at what the judge did at the trial and seeing if the trial judge did their job correctly.
- The court of appeals cannot second guess the trial judge. The job of the appellate panel (usually three judges) is to determine whether the trial judge followed the law properly and whether there was enough evidence to support the judgment that was entered. So even if the appellate panel might have decided the case a different way, as long as a reasonable person could look at the evidence and make the judgment that the trial judge entered, the court of appeals will “affirm” the trial judge’s decision.
- Many more appeals are lost than are won because the court of appeals begins its job with the assumption that the trial judge did their job correctly. It’s up to the appealing party (the “appellant”) to convince the appellate judges that the trial judge made a big enough error that the decision should be overturned. That is usually a tough burden.
- The bulk of the work on appeals takes place outside of the courtroom. Each side has an opportunity to write appellate briefs containing the basic facts of the case, their legal arguments, and cases from other courts that support those arguments. (Briefs are anything but brief, often containing 30, 40, or more pages.) In Missouri’s courts, the oral arguments before the judges generally are over in around 30 minutes.
- Oral arguments allow appellate judges to think out loud, and to get some input from the attorneys. You can’t predict outcomes based on the questions the court asks. Often the ruling is the opposite of what you might expect based on their questions.
- Most appeals (other than unusual emergency actions) take months. What you see on TV dramas is sheer fantasy. From beginning to end in an appeal can be anywhere from six months to over a year or even longer. Appeals are highly technical and subject to strict rules and deadlines. Most lawyers don’t handle appeals. They usually leave them to attorneys who have experience in the appellate courts.
Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal’s appellate attorneys can help you determine whether to appeal your case, and can use their experience to represent you on appeal.