The Federal Appeal Process… When, Where, and How?
An appeal can be made to the federal court of appeals by a litigant who is not satisfied with a trial court's decision in the federal system. Likewise, a party unsatisfied with the ruling made by a federal administrative agency may file a petition for review of the agency decision by a court of appeals. Judicial review on cases involving federal agencies or programs may be obtained primarily from a district court rather than from a court of appeals.
Any of the parties to the case can appeal the court verdict in a civil case. However, in a criminal case, the defendant may appeal a guilty verdict of the court, but the government does not have the right to appeal if the defendant is proved innocent. Additionally, both of the parties to a criminal case can go for a sentencing appeal following a guilty verdict. The appeal of an order by a bankruptcy judge can be forwarded to the district court. However, several bankruptcy appellate panels have been established to hear direct appeals from the bankruptcy courts. In each circumstance, the party that loses in the preliminary bankruptcy appeal may then appeal to the court of appeals.
To prevail in the appeal, an appellant must prove that the trial court or the administrative agency committed a legal mistake that affected the decision in the case. The court of appeals delivers its opinion and takes the final decision based purely on the record of the case established by the trial court or agency. The court of appeals cannot obtain further evidence or hear witnesses on the matter. The court can also review the factual findings of the trial court or agency, but in general, will only change a decision on accurate factual grounds if the findings were "clearly erroneous." Appeals are decided by a joint panel of three judges. The appellant provides a brief with the issues and legal arguments to the panel of judges, striving to convince the panel that there was an error made by the trial court and for that reason, its verdict must be overturned. Conversely, the appellee provides its brief to demonstrate why the trial court decision was correct or why any error made by the trial court was not significant enough to affect the outcome of the case.
Cases can also be decided based on oral argument before the court. Oral argument is a structured conversation between the appellate lawyers and the judges focusing on the legal principles in the argument. Both sides are given around 15 minutes to present their arguments in court. The verdict of the court of appeals is generally final unless the parties appeal to the Supreme Court or the case is sent back to the trial court to take further measures and proceedings or if the decision is reviewed en banc. Any party who is not satisfied with the decision of the court of appeals can file a petition for a 'writ of certiorari' asking the Supreme Court to reanalyze the case. However, the Supreme Court is not compelled to award a review of the case unless it engages an unusually significant legal principle or when two or more federal appellate courts have construed a law in a different way.