When the trial is over, the verdict is in and the judge has banged the gavel for the last time on a case, what’s next? Well, for people who are unhappy with the verdict, that’s usually an appeal.
Most people understand the basic ebb-and-flow of a trial court, but appellate courts are very different, and they have very different purposes and goals.
What are the biggest differences between trial courts and appellate courts?
If there is anything you need to keep in mind about the way an appellate court differs from trial court, it’s the following:
- The appellate court does not decide issues of fact. In trial courts, either the judge or a jury has to be the decider of facts. They evaluate the evidence, experts and witness testimony and decide what’s true and what’s not true. The verdict rests on their decisions. The appellate court generally won’t consider whether their decision was correct or not. Instead, appellate courts focus on issues of law.
- An appellate court usually impanels multiple judges for every case. In trial courts, cases are argued to one judge — not several. Verdicts in appellate cases are by majority rule. That can be intimidating for many trial attorneys, especially because they need to convince a majority of the judges of the merits of their case in order to succeed.
- Emotional narratives aren’t used as much in appellate courts. In trial courts, attorneys generally try to construct a compelling narrative that explains the evidence in the light most favorable to their client. Since appellate courts don’t hear evidence, the emotional narrative is less important than the technical aspects of a case, like whether a ruling was unconstitutional or the trial judge erred in allowing certain testimony into evidence.
When you’re thinking about appealing a verdict, you need to have a clear understanding of the challenges to come. The more proactive you are about preparing for this process, the more likely you’ll be to have a successful outcome.