If you have had the misfortune of being on the losing end of a judicial proceeding, you probably know the feeling of hopelessness and despair that can go along with such an experience. As you sit in a courtroom and listen to a judge publish an unfavorable ruling, you may feel as if your cause is lost and there is nowhere left to turn. While that feeling is understandable, it is not entirely accurate. Your judge has the final word in his courtroom, but that does not mean his word cannot be challenged elsewhere.
Our court system consists of several levels, and if you are not satisfied with the result in a lower court, you have the opportunity to appeal your case to a higher court. Appeals can be taken from cases of all types; both criminal and civil. However, there are several important things you must know in making your decision to appeal a case:
1) Time is of the essence – The law gives you the right to appeal the decision reached during a trial, but you only have a limited amount of time to exercise that option. In most instances, you have only thirty (30) days from the date of the final judgment to appeal your case. If you fail to appeal your case within that time period, you will probably be giving up your right to appeal. For this reason, it is important to contact a lawyer immediately upon losing a trial to inquire about the possibility of appeal. There are numerous notices and motions which must be filed with the court within the thirty (30) day period, so call a lawyer to insure that your rights are safeguarded.
2) Issues which may be appealed are limited – When you appeal a case, you do not automatically get a second chance to have a new trial. Rather, a higher court will look at what the judge did in your case and determine whether any errors were made. Often, these errors involve the judge making an improper determination of how the law applies to your case. There is no “new trial” conducted before an appellate court, only a review of what happened at the original trial. Your attorney argues issues that warrant overturning the original decision, which may be any of a variety of legal elements: that the verdict did not comport with the evidence; that prejudicial evidentiary matters were let in before the trial jury that tainted their decision; that the judge erroneously excluded favorable evidence that should have been heard; that the judge misapplied the law; that your attorney committed professional malpractice that compromised your case or claim. The potential for error is scrutinized by appellate counsel as he reviews the trial transcripts and judicial rulings in the lower court.
3) Appealing a criminal case – Handling the appeal of a criminal case presents some specific concerns not present in other types of cases. To begin with, if you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime, there is a chance that the sentence handed down involves incarceration in jail. If that is the case, it is possible to ask the judge to release the convicted person on bond while he or she appeals the case. This is known as a supersedeas bond.
Another concern arises if you have been convicted of crime because you entered a plea of “no contest” or “guilty” to the charges, rather than having a trial. By pleading “no contest” or “guilty” you seriously limit the types of issues you can appeal, unless you or your attorney specifically reserved the right to appeal a certain issue. In our capacity as appellate counsel, we sit down and review these issues for you.
4) Appeals are argued mainly on paper – Appeals are primarily argued through written briefs submitted by each side. The issues on appeal are often decided without any oral argument before the appellate court, and if there is oral argument it is often very brief. You can request oral argument, but it is discretionary with the higher court as to whether you will get it. Thus, in order to effectively pursue an appeal, it is essential that you hire a lawyer who is a skilled communicator, academically proficient at presenting cogent and effective legal arguments concisely and lucidly in writing.
At our law office, we are experienced in handling both civil and criminal appeals. We have successfully argued before appellate courts and have had several of those opinions published in law books. A copy of the published decisions on record is available for your review in our office. Please feel free to call for a copy.
If you have lost a trial and would like to discuss the possibility of appealing your case, call the office of Norm Kent at your earliest convenience and speak with attorney Norm Kent or Russ Cormican at 954-763-1900.