How to Win an Appeal in Court

by | Jul 26, 2021

Win Your Appeal in Court

When a judge or jury decides the outcome of a case, a common misconception is that it is the end. This is not correct. A final verdict, judgment or opinion in the trial court or a lower court is not the final word on a case, thanks to what is called an appeal. 

What is an Appeal?

An appeal is a request by a party to an appellate court or intermediate court to review a lower court’s ruling or a jury’s verdict. It is not a retrial or a new trial of the case and does not involve new witnesses or new evidence. Understandably, most litigants want to retry their case in the appellate court. However, appellate courts are court of record. They do not accept evidence. The record is established in the trial court. An appellate court will review the trial record, including transcripts and documents or items received by the trial court as evidence in the record.

An appeal is filed by an appellant, or the party pursuing the appeal, to a higher court when the appellant believes there is basis for overturning an unfavorable outcome in the trial court. 

The basis for the appellant’s appeal often involves procedural technicalities or in the trial court’s interpretation of the law which affected the trial’s outcome. If the appeal is based on fact, then the appellant’s argument involves assertions of clear error in a trial court’s findings of fact, or the facts presented at trial simply do not support the judgment. The appellant has the burden of proof to establish that an error exists.

The party defending the lower court’s previous ruling is called the appellee.

Either the plaintiff or defendant may file an appeal to a higher court in a civil case. While in a criminal case, there are two types of appeals: discretionary and of right. A higher court must hear an appeal of right but may or may not consider a discretionary appeal. 

The exception to this general rule is a not guilty verdict in a criminal case. Once a defendant is acquitted, the case is over.

For a discretionary appeal in the criminal context, the defendant must file an application seeking leave to appeal wherein the defendant is requesting the appellate court to grant leave to appeal. An example of a discretionary appeal is when a defendant accepts the prosecution’s plea offer and pleads guilty or no contest. When accepting a plea offer the defendant gives up many constitutional rights including the right to appeal.

How Does an Appeal Work?

If a case is tried in a district court, the appeal is made to a circuit court. If the case was heard in a circuit court, then the appeal is addressed to the Court of Appeals.

The appeals process commonly unfolds as follows:

  1. The appellant will file an appeal, ensuring strict compliance to time frames and filing requirements.
  2. The appellant will file an appellate brief, which is a written argument alleging the error. The appellee may file a brief in response, which is a written statement arguing that no errors exist or, if any, are harmless.
  3. The appellant may file a reply brief, which is an optional filing.
  4. The appellate court will schedule a hearing.
  5. The appellate court will issue an order or opinion to resolve the matter.

How to Win an Appeal?

An appeal can turn around an unfavorable verdict, but it requires a lot of hard work and money. As each case is unique, each appeal is different. You will have the best chances of winning an appeal by following this strategy:

Start preparing for an appeal during the trial. This means you have to start thinking about the worst-case scenario, i.e., that the trial court will rule unfavorably. Some of the most important tips include:

  • Have an appellate specialist in your team. This will be someone who knows the appeals process very well and will be able to point out the pitfalls or critical items that will help you win an appeal should an appeal be made later on. For instance, evidence that may seem secondary to convincing a jury during a trial might be really important for an appeal.
  • Alternatively, if budget is an issue, you can consult with an appellate specialist throughout the trial process instead. Regular consultation will provide the appellate specialist with a better knowledge and understanding of the case than just reading the transcript.
  • Address legitimate discovery issues,which means you need to receive a specific ruling from the judge. This will bolster your chances of winning an appeal later on. (Discovery is the process where both sides collect and exchange information about the case and prepare for trial.) 
  • Make motions, such as summary judgment motions, to present and preserve winning arguments in an appeal.

Be alert on decision day. Whatever a trial court’s or a jury’s decision of a case might be—favorable or unfavorable—you have to remain alert. Post-trial motions, for instance, might make or break your chances of a successful appeal. You must be aware of each decision’s potential impact on a possible appeal.

Write your appeal in a clear, concise, engaging, and persuasive manner. Your appeal should be brief, logical, and easily understood by anyone who may read it. It should also clearly show exactly how the trial court made a wrong decision under the law and how that ruling affected the fairness of your trial.

An appellate brief should include:

  • Deep issue headings for questions presented.
  • Concise sentences for issue and sub-issue headings.
  • Summary of argument not an actual summary but instead layouts a concise statement of the injustice done in the lower court.
  • The correct standard of review.
  • More application of the law versus lots of law cited with little to no in-depth application.

Your appeal must focus on your strongest argument. Quality over quantity. Pick the most persuasive arguments and state them clearly and simply. These arguments should tie into one central idea or theme.

For any appeal, more arguments are not better. Too many arguments can lead to confusion and reduce the effectiveness of each argument. Judges may not also follow the logic behind your appeal when there are too many arguments that may have contradictions. You can employ alternative arguments, but these should never distract or undermine the strength of your main argument.

Use the facts to your advantage. In the courtroom, fact is king. Facts can persuade the judges to rule in your favor. Set out the facts truthfully in a clear, concise, and chronological way. Leave no relevant facts out so that the judge’s won’t find your appeal misleading. If any fact is harmful to your argument, do not hide or deny it. Confront these negative aspects of your case by explaining why you should still win your appeal despite them.

Include a well thought out introduction. In Michigan, an introduction is optional, but it is good practice to include one in your appeal. It should lay out your top arguments immediately and provide the judges an idea of the main theme of your appeal. They can use this information as a frame of reference in making their decisions.

Follow court rules and time frames. This is very important but can be very technical and confusing. Just remember that failure to strictly comply with procedural rules, filing requirements, and time frames could result in penalties, such as forfeiture of the right to participate in oral argument and even dismissal of the appeal.

How an Appeals Lawyer Helps you Win!

Going through the appeals process on your own is possible but extremely difficult for non-lawyers. First of all, you need to have an excellent understanding of the appeals process. Many appeals cases have been lost because of lawyers not following the court’s instructions or not submitting the required documents on time. In addition, you’ll need to be able to correctly point out the legal errors in your case, develop a strong strategy, and present your appeal to the appellate court.

If that sounds like too much of a headache, it is. That is why most people hire the services of an appeals attorney.

Steve Crane Jr. understands how the appeals process works and how the appellate courts operate. Steve was a judicial clerk for Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley of the Michigan Supreme Court in Lansing, Michigan, and Circuit Judge Max Rosenn of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This experience helped him gain an eye for identifying errors made in trial courts and develop winning strategies.

Steve and Crane Law have handled appeals from all stages of litigation, from pre-trial orders to post-trial orders. The firm has represented individuals and businesses filing appeals for various areas, such as criminal cases, arbitration, employment law, real estate disputes, commerce litigation, and many more. For instance, Steve successfully recovered thousands of dollars for a defective special assessment for individual homeowners against West Bloomfield Township, Michigan in the State Tax Tribunal, Circuit Court, and Michigan Court of Appeals.

If you intend to appeal, email, or call Steve Crane Jr. and Crane Law at (248) 963-6300. We will schedule a discrete and confidential consultation about your case so we can learn the facts and create a strategy to win your appeal.