Going through litigation is never easy. An adverse decision at the end of a trial can be especially frustrating to deal with. In many cases—both criminal and civil—a non-prevailing private party has the right to appeal. This raises an important question: What does an appellate judge actually look for when reviewing a case? 

The short answer is that they are generally not going at new facts or new evidence. Instead, appellate courts review cases for the proper application of law and procedural fairness. In this article, our appellate lawyers provide a more detailed overview of the things you need to know about what appellate judges look for when reviewing a case. 

The Key Principle: Appeal is Not a Re-Trial or a New Trial

Understanding the role of appellate courts is crucial to grasping what appellate judges look for when reviewing a case. Here is the foundational thing to know about how appellate courts work: An appeal is not a re-trial. The American Bar Association (ABA) explains clearly that appellate judges are generally not in a position to review new evidence or new testimony. They accept the facts from the original trial. Appellate judges primarily review the trial court’s record and the legal arguments presented by both parties to determine if any errors warrant a reversal or modification of the lower court’s decision. 

Appellate Judges Look for the Correct Application of the Law and Procedural Fairness

When reviewing a case, appellate judges look for two main factors: the correct application of the law and procedural fairness. Here is a more detailed overview of each of these two points: 

    • Application of Law: An appellate judge will consider whether the trial court properly applied the law in the case. It is an assessment that may include examining the legal reasoning behind the lower court’s decision, as well as scrutinizing the interpretation and application of relevant statutes, case law, and constitutional provisions. If the appellate judges find that the trial court misapplied the law or made a legal error, they may reverse. 
  • Procedural Fairness: Appellate judges also focus on procedural fairness. Along with other things, they review the trial court’s rulings on a wide range of procedural issues, such as the admissibility of evidence, jury instructions, and the conduct of attorneys. If procedural errors are found to have impacted the outcome of the case, the appellate court may reverse the decision. 

An Overview of Specific Grounds for Appeal 

You cannot successfully appeal a criminal verdict or a civil verdict by stating that you disagree with the decision. As the non-prevailing party, you must cite specific grounds for your appeal. An experienced appellate lawyer can help you assess and evaluate every potential grounds for appeal that may apply to your case. In some circumstances, you may have multiple viable grounds for appealing an adverse decision. Some notable grounds for appeal include the following: 

    • Insufficient Evidence: When the evidence presented at trial is not sufficient to support the verdict, that may be grounds for appeal. Appellate judges could overturn a conviction or adverse civil ruling if they determine that there is a lack of sufficient evidence. 
    • Legal Error: Legal errors include misinterpretation or misapplication of the law by the trial court, such as through incorrect jury instructions, improper application of a legal standard, or misinterpreting a statute or precedent.
    • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: A grounds for appeal that may apply in a criminal trial, ineffective assistance occurs when a defendant’s attorney provides inadequate representation. 
    • Newly Discovered Evidence: In rare instances, new evidence that was not available at the time of trial may be grounds for an appeal. However, this evidence must be likely to change the outcome of the case. The appellate judge does not weigh in on the evidence itself, but rather that the evidence justifies a new trial. 
  • Prosecutorial Misconduct or Judicial Misconduct: As noted previously, appellate judges have the authority to assess the procedural fairness of a legal case. If a trial was deemed unfair due to misconduct by a prosecutor or by a lower court judge (rare), that could be viable grounds for appeal. 

Contact Our Appellate Law Attorneys Today

At The Appellate Law Firm, we specialize in appellate law. If you have any questions about what an appellate judge is looking for in your case, our attorneys can help. Give us a call now or contact us online to set up your strictly confidential consultation. Our law firm provides civil and criminal appellate services in Washington, California, Oregon, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Georgia.


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