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An Overview of the Appellate Process

What is the Appellate Process?

When a trial comes to an end, litigation is not necessarily over.  If either the defendant or plaintiff in a legal proceeding disagrees with the decision made by a court, he/she has a right to file an appeal and have the decision reviewed by a higher court.  This process is known as the appeals process or appellate process.  Your right to appeal is a U.S. Constitutional right, as well as a Florida Constitutional right.

What is the Final Judgment Rule?

While this rule sounds ominous, it really isn’t.  It is not unusual for parties in a lawsuit to receive court rulings, like a certain motion, which are unfavorable and/or potentially inaccurate.  These parties may want to appeal immediately, but the Final Judgment Rule is the legal principle that appellate courts will only hear appeals from the final judgment in a case.  Cases that are resolved through motions for summary judgment or motions to dismiss are also considered final judgments.

This rule has existed for a long time and serves to promote judicial efficiency.  If parties could appeal motions throughout a trial, the case would have to wait for a decision from the court of appeal before continuing.  This would mean many court cases would take years upon years to finish.

The Final Judgment Rule also reduces appellate workloads by allowing only important issues to be ultimately presented to those courts.  If a party loses a motion early on it may not be that critical to the final judgment by the end of the trial.

What Judgments May Be Appealed?

All losing parties in civil matters and all criminal defendants have a right to appeal a judge or jury’s verdict against them.  However, the prosecution in a criminal matter may not appeal a verdict in favor of the defendant.  To appeal a “not guilty” verdict would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution.

State and federal appeals courts review the decisions of lower trial courts.  If a party loses in an appeal court, they may appeal to the state supreme court or to the United States Supreme Court.  Review of appeals in these courts is discretionary and is limited to only a small number of cases.  The U.S. Supreme Court is authorized to only hear cases that involve a federal or Constitutional issue.

Appellate Jurisdiction

When discussing the courts, we often hear about a court’s jurisdiction.  Jurisdiction means the court has the legal authority to hear that type of case.  Federal courts are limited to hearing only those cases authorized by the U.S. Constitution.  Other cases are left to the appropriate state court system.  So that means appellate jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to hear appeals from lower courts.  Appellate jurisdiction exists for both civil law and criminal law.

In addition to the Florida Supreme Court, Florida has five District Courts of Appeal.  They are located as follows:

First District Court of Appeal:  2000 Drayton Drive, Tallahassee

Second District Court of Appeal:  811 East Main Street, Lakeland

Third District Court of Appeal:  2001 S.W. 117th Avenue, Miami

Fourth District Court of Appeal:  110 S. Tamarind Avenue, West Palm Beach

Fifth District Court of Appeal:  300 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach

Types of Appeals

A party must usually file an appeal in order for an appellate court to hear a case.  There are typically two types of appeals:

1)  Appeal as a Matter of Right

This refers to a party’s right to appeal a lower court’s decision without needing approval from any court.

2)  Discretionary Appeal

This refers to an appellate court’s decision to decide whether it chooses to accept a party’s appeal from a lower court decision.  For a discretionary appeal, the appellate party must file a writ of certiorari with the appellate court.

Before You Appeal

Some litigants make the grave mistake of filing an appeal before seeking counsel.  There are times that you do not want to appeal a judgment immediately.  Many trial lawyers are unfamiliar with the appellate practice and do not know how to secure your appellate rights.  For instance, the appellate court will only consider arguments that were brought to the trial court’s attention.  For certain types of errors that show up for the first time in the judgment, one may need to file a motion for rehearing.  This post-judgment motion gives the trial court a chance to rule on your arguments so the appellate court can consider them later.  Without this motion, you could lose your appeal.  On the other hand, a proper motion for rehearing can extend the time you have to file your appeal.

On Your Side

The appellate process involves multiple steps and is more complicated than the initial trial.  Any mistake or inaccuracy could imperil your appeal.

I’m Rob Robinson and I have been practicing laws in Florida for over 30 years.  As a sole practitioner, you can be assured that your legal matters are handled with individualized care and attention.  I offer strong appellate advocacy counsel to move your case through the appeals phase.  If you are thinking about an appeal to a court ruling, it is important to contact my office immediately.  My unwavering dedication to serving my clients with excellence and integrity makes me an advocate you can trust with your appeal.

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