An appeal is the process of having a trial court judgment reviewed by the proper appellate court.
For criminal appeals, the process begins by challenging a conviction on direct review. After direct review, a defendant can challenge his conviction by collateral review in state court. In Louisiana, state collateral review typically begins by application for post-conviction relief in the trial court. The next level of collateral review begins when a defendant files a writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court.
Appellate procedure consists of a series of rules and practices by which appellate courts review a judgment issued by a trial court.
An appellate review may perform several functions, such as:
- Correction of errors committed by the trial court.
- Develop appropriate law and precedent to be followed and anticipated in future disputes.
- Review errors of the lower court which are of a legal nature as appellate courts will prefer not to disturb factual findings.
There are several issues critical to an appeal, such as:
- Whether or not the judgment in question is in fact appealable.
- How the appeal should be presented to the court.
- What will be required to win reversal of the lower court.
In order to bring an appeal, the case must be completely over and final decisions and judgments must have been issued; this is known as Final Judgment Rule. However, there are exceptions:
- Plain or fundamental error by the trial court.
- Questions of subject-matter jurisdiction of the trial court.
- Constitutional questions.
Arguments for an appeal are presented mainly in the form of written briefs. It is through these written briefs that the appeal cites the legal authorities and arguments in support of the party’s position. Some jurisdictions permit oral argument. Where oral arguments are allowed, they are intended to simply clarify legal issues presented in the briefs and are usually time limited as determined by the individual court.
There is in fact a dual appeal system. Federal appellate courts are subject to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. State appellate courts are guided by the individual state rules of appellate procedure.