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Appellate Court

Definition - What does Appellate Court mean?

Appellate or appeals court are the courts within the United States judicial system which have the right to review decisions made by lower courts. Decisions are reviewed when either the defendant or the plaintiff in a civil case files an appeal following the lower court’s decision.

In criminal cases defendants may have the legal right to file an appeal if they are unsatisfied with the lower court's decision.

Federal Court of Appeals

Below the United States Supreme Court there are thirteen appellate courts called the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The ninety-four federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals.

The Appeals courts each have three judges who hear challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit. The Federal Appeals Court hears thousands of cases each year, with only a handful of these cases making it to the highest federal court which is called the United States Supreme Court.

The Federal Appeals Court hear a variety of different types of cases. Specifically, their cases will focus on issues such as the constitutionality of a law, cases involving treaties and laws of the U.S., disputes between states, bankruptcy, admiralty law, and Habeas corpus.

State Appeals Courts State appeal courts are the final arbiters of state constitutional issues and state laws.

States have their own laws which allow them to establish their state court system. State courts can hear cases regarding family law issues, probate matters, criminal issues, and a variety of other civil claims.

For example, the state of Texas has established fourteen Texas Courts of Appeals. If a criminal or civil case is appealed from the district level it can be heard by one of these appeal courts (excluding death penalty cases which are sent directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals). State law determines how many judges are assigned to each court. Generally, cases which are appealed to the appellate courts are heard by a panel of three court judges, although some cases are heard by all of the justices.

When can I appeal my case?

Claimants who wish to appeal their case to a higher court must file a Notice of Appeal in the superior court. An appeal can be filed as soon as the order or judgment is filed by the court clerk for the initial case. There is a deadline for filing all appeals, which could be as soon as thirty days after the judgment is filed.

The Notice of Appeal notifies all parties that either the plaintiff or defendant in a civil case has asked a higher court to modify or reverse the decision made by the lower court. The notice of appeal will also require the requester to explain why they believe the court’s decision should be overturned, which generally includes errors of law or questions of fact.

Regardless of who has filed the Notice of Appeal, the filer must provide evidence to the appeals court that an error was made. Errors can include an application of law, violation of a party’s constitutional rights, mistakes made by the judge in regards to the jury, or a lack of evidence to support a guilty verdict.

The appeals case has several options after receiving a Notice of Appeal. For example, in civil cases the court may simply affirm the decision for damages decided by the lower court or decrease or increase the amount awarded to the defendant.

Talk to your lawyer if you have questions about the statute of limitations in your state or how to appeal a case.

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