What Is the Appeals Process?
Often, people are familiar with the criminal or civil trial process because of the numerous depictions in movies and on television (although these are distorted portrayals of what goes on). However, the appeals process is an unfamiliar concept. When a client reaches out to our Dallas appeals attorney, Niles Illich, the initial discussion typically involves an overview of the process. The explanation helps our clients understand what to expect and may ease some of the tension they feel because they know that various legal avenues are available to pursue remedy.
Below are the stages of an appeal:
Filing Motions and Notices
The appeals process begins after the court clerk and court reporter file their records and the court’s judgment is entered. Once this happens, the attorney can submit a motion for a new trial and a notice of direct appeal. For state cases, the notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days; for federal, 14 days. Some exceptions may be granted concerning the filing deadlines.
At the time the notices are filed, the appeals lawyer may also request the court record. The court record is a transcript of the trial and includes the evidence presented.
Drafting the Brief
The brief is the most important document in an appeal. About 90% of an appeals attorney’s time is spent crafting this document. It contains the arguments the appellant is making and states the reason they are seeking remedy. The brief must be well-written and compelling. As such, it is no short document. Limits exist to how long they can be: State briefs, 15,000 words; federal briefs, 13,000 words.
The brief specifies what remedy the appellant is seeking based on the issue that occurred. For instance, if the appellant argues that:
- The court did not allow evidence to be admitted that should have been, they may seek a new trial.
- They were convicted based on insufficient evidence, they may request an acquittal.
- They were sentenced erroneously, they may ask for a new sentence.
The appellee will also submit a brief containing their arguments. The appellant may want to file a reply brief in response to the appellee.
Making Oral Arguments
Oral arguments are not always a component of the appeals process. It is at the court’s discretion whether they occur.
Note that no new witnesses are called upon nor new evidence presented during oral arguments. Oral arguments reiterate what is contained in the brief. They also provide an opportunity for the justices to ask clarifying questions about each side’s claims.
Issuing an Opinion
After the justices review each side’s briefs and hear oral arguments (if granted), they will determine whether remedy is necessary. One possible outcome is the appellate court affirming the trial court's decision. This result means that the verdict or judgment stands.
The other possible outcome is the appellate court’s reversal of the trial court's decision. If this happens, the appellate court may order:
- A new trial,
- Modifications to the judgment, or
- Reconsider the facts of the case.