Understanding Your Appeal

The purpose of an appeal is to review the trial court proceedings to make sure that the law was followed. If the attorney finds any errors, the attorney will evaluate whether there are any remedies for that failure.

What is an appeal?

An appeal is limited to the proceedings and evidence presented in the trial court. The transcripts include documents filed in the trial court and the court reporter’s word-for-word record of what happened in the courtroom. The Court of Appeal cannot consider facts outside of the transcripts. It hears no witnesses and takes no new evidence.

The Court of Appeal does not decide questions of fact, such as whether a person is guilty or innocent, whether a certain witness was telling the truth, or what a particular piece of evidence proves. These decisions are left for the jury or trial judge.

Instead, the Court of Appeal determines legal issues. For example, it might decide whether certain evidence was correctly admitted, or whether the jury was properly instructed, or whether the trial judge gave adequate reasons for choosing a particular sentence, and other similar questions.

If the Court of Appeal finds that the proceedings were conducted correctly, the judgment is “affirmed,” and judgment will not change. 

If the Court of Appeal finds some important mistake was made in the trial court, your case will probably be “reversed” (in part or in full) and sent back to the trial court to correct the mistake. Some mistakes can be corrected by the Court of Appeal itself, without sending the case back.

What can I expect to happen during the appeal?

Once an attorney is appointed to your case, the attorney will begin reviewing the record once it is filed by the superior court clerk. The attorney will make sure that all the necessary documents are contained in the record, then begin researching potential issues for the opening brief.

The usual steps in an appeal include:

  1. Appellant’s Opening Brief.
    After the transcripts are filed, your attorney will study them and decide what issues should be presented to the Court of Appeal. These issues will be set out in the appellant’s opening brief.
  2. Respondent’s Brief.
    About two to three months after the appellant’s opening brief is filed, the Attorney General will file the prosecution’s answer, called the “respondent’s brief.”
  3. Appellant’s Reply Brief.
    In this brief, your attorney will have a chance to answer the arguments made in the Attorney General’s brief. It is due 20 days after the Attorney General’s brief is filed. The appellant’s reply brief is optional and will be filed only if your lawyer thinks it will help.
  4. Oral Argument.
    Usually within a month or two after all the briefs are filed, the Court of Appeal will give both sides a chance to ask for oral argument. In oral argument, the lawyers for both sides appear before the court to argue the case. Oral argument is not held in every case. Your attorney will evaluate the briefing to determine if oral argument would be advantageous.
  5. Opinion.
    After the briefs are filed and any oral argument is held, three judges of the Court of Appeal will decide your case. The Court of Appeal will give its decision in a written opinion. The opinion explains why the court decided each issue as it did.

You will receive copies of all the briefs, the opinion, any petitions filed, and all other important papers.

In a few cases known as “People’s appeals,” the prosecution will be appealing to ask the Court of Appeal to change some ruling of the trial court. In People’s appeals, the prosecution will be the “appellant” and file the appellant’s opening and reply briefs. Your attorney will file the respondent’s brief.

Most appeals take about a year from the time the notice of appeal is filed until the time the decision of the Court of Appeal becomes final. Your case may be shorter or longer, depending on how long the transcripts are, how many issues are raised, and other factors.

If you have specific questions about your case, please contact your attorney.