appellate procedure

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: which 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 rules will govern the appeals process.

Appealable issues are commonly limited to final judgments and the federal "final judgment rule" gives appellate courts jurisdiction over almost all appeals of final decisions made by district courts. That said, a few exceptions exist to the final judgment rule which allow an appellate court to review interlocutory or non-final court orders. 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. 

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. Additionally, parties are not allowed to raise new arguments that were not raised at trial court when appealing unless they can show exceptional circumstances. Therefore, parties are incentivized to raise as many arguments as they can during the initial trial to preserve those arguments in the event they wish to appeal. 

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.

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]

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Category: Courts and Procedure