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By Zuleika Bravo

What to know before filing an appeal

The U.S. Judicial System is confusing, especially with the added layers of court systems within the judicial branch. If you are looking to file an appeal within the appellate system, there is some pertinent information to consider.

Two primary purposes for appeals:

The first function of an appellate court is to correct errors that were made by a lower court. Judges are known to decide abruptly in trial cases. Trial judges are where the action is and they more than often make a ruling based on the circumstances of the case at that point in time. They usually do not have time to review every detail of the case and have to decide quickly. Appellate courts then supervise the ruling and reasoning of the lower courts to ensure that the correct ruling was applied. This error correction by the appellate courts overrules an arbitrary or capricious decision made by a trial judge.

The second primary function of the appellate courts is to prepare policies. This occurs when existing law contains gaps that are filled in by appellate courts in order to clarify older principles and often to propose new interpretations of current laws. On some of these occasions old law is overruled; the law is shaped in response to contemporary conditions in society.

Policy formulation considers how the appellate court's decision affects future cases, while error correction focuses on the individual's right to litigate in the judicial process.

The difference between mandatory and discretionary appellate jurisdiction:

Less populous states usually do not have an intermediate appellate body to argue the appeal; therefore, the appeal is filed and heard in the court of last resort. The court of last resort has mandatory jurisdiction and must hear all appeals filed from the defendant. Once the case has been reviewed and a decision has been reached, your one and only appeal is exhausted. The losing party may ask to appeal to a higher court, but the higher court has the authority to deny the request. The higher courts hold a discretionary jurisdiction, which allows them to choose which cases to hear. Most state supreme courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have discretionary jurisdiction. The majority of appeals are heard by the intermediate courts and usually never get to the higher courts.

Options available to an appellate court as it considers how to dispose of a case:

When it comes to appellate courts determining how to dispose of a case, there are a couple of options to consider. Appellate courts may modify, reverse, remand, or reverse and remand if an error is found or a mistake was made by the trial judge. By the appellate court modifying the ruling, they are changing it in part but are not reversing the whole ruling. When a case is reversed or set aside the trial court's decision is overturned and thus the case is sent back for further review and possible re-trial. If the appellate court decides to remand a case, they are sending the case back to the lower court with instructions to proceed further.

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