When Can I Appeal A Court's Decision?

Charles Brown

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Generally, under the legal system in the United States, parties to a trial have the right to appeal to a higher court if they believe the outcome they received from a lower court was in error. However, only questions of law are grounds for appeal, not questions of fact.

This means that if the party simply feels the jury (or the judge if the case was heard in a bench trial) arrived at the wrong conclusion as a result of the facts presented, that is not grounds for appeal. But if the party feels the judge made an error in interpreting the law, that issue is grounds for an appeal.

Suppose the judge allowed the jury to hear a witness testify about something he did personally see or hear, but was instead told by someone else who claimed to have seen or heard this matter. Under most circumstances, this type of testimony is called “hearsay" because the actual witness on the stand was not the person who saw or heard the matter being testified about.

Now suppose, the jury renders an unfavorable verdict based upon that hearsay testimony. Now the party who lost this case my appeal to a higher court claiming the judge erred in allowing that testimony to be heard by the jury. This is an issue of whether the judge made an improper decision based on the law, not whether the jury made an incorrect verdict based upon the facts presented in the trial.

The appeals court does not rehear the facts and testimony and render a new verdict, they will simply decide whether the lower court must conduct a new trial without admitting the hearsay testimony into evidence.

Other questions of law might be whether the judges instructions to the jury were correct, whether the party’s constitutional rights were violated, whether the lower court had proper jurisdiction to hear this case, whether a statute of limitation has been exceeded, or whether the damages awarded were excessive under the law, etc.

In most cases the party will have a limited time to file an appeal (often 30 to 45 days after the lower court’s verdict).

Also, in order to appeal, your attorney must have raised an objection to this issue during the trial and have been overruled. It is not acceptable to comb through the trial transcripts later and find an error that should have been objected to during the trial and then file an appeal.

The appellate court can either affirm the lower court’s verdict, reverse it, modify the verdict, or order a new trial.

Charles Brown, JD is a former criminal defense lawyer who now writes about legal topics. Visit him at Ask A Criminal Defense Lawyer , http://askcrimelawyer.blogspot.com , where you can submit your questions about your legal rights, what to do if you or a family member is ever charged with a crime, how to choose a criminal defense lawyer and how to work with your lawyer throughout your case.


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