appellate procedure: an overview
Appellate procedure consists of the rules and practices by which appellate courts review trial court judgments. Appellate review performs several functions, including correcting errors committed by a trial court, developing the law, and achieving uniformity across courts. Appellate procedure focuses on several main themes: what judgments are appealable, how appeals are brought before the court, what will be required for a reversal of the lower court (such as a showing of "abuse of discretion or "clear error"), and what procedures parties must follow.
Appealable issues are commonly limited to final judgments. The federal "final judgment rule," 28 U.S.C. § 1291, gives jurisdiction of appeals of final decisions by district courts to the courts of appeals in most cases. There are exceptions to the final judgment rule, however. These include instances in which a trial court commits a plain or fundamental error, questions about whether a trial court has subject-matter jurisdiction, or constitutional questions. 28 U.S.C. § 1292 is another example of an exception to the final judgment rule, which relates to appeals of non-final (interlocutory) decisions.
Argument in appellate court centers around written briefs prepared by the litigating parties. These briefs state the questions on appeal and describe the legal authorities and arguments that support each party's position. Third parties can also submit amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs that may influence an appellate court's decision.
Few jurisdictions allow for oral argument. Where allowed, oral argument is intended to clarify legal issues presented in the briefs and is ordinarily subject to a time limit.
Federal appellate courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. State appellate courts are governed by their own state rules of appellate procedure.