Hiring an Appellate Attorney and Appellate Jurisdiction

If you are involved in a lawsuit, chances are, in the months and even years of your suit, your case may move through different courts. If you find yourself appealing a court case you will need to consider both hiring an appellate attorney and appellate jurisdiction. In all court cases, proper jurisdiction must be maintained, or your case may be thrown out or overturned, forcing you to start all over again or lose the case. The issue of jurisdiction is relatively simple at times, but not always. In many cases, establishing proper jurisdiction or venue can be confusing and very intimidating. In this Litigation Guide, we will touch on appellate jurisdiction and the importance of hiring an appellate attorney to protect your legal rights.

An appellate attorney is trained in appealing court cases and is much different from a normal trial lawyer. The appellate attorney will review your court case, looking for legal missteps and will consider all legal aspects of the first trial starting with jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is broadly defined as a court’s ability to hear a particular case. There are some courts that have the legal authority to hear a case first and the first court that usually hears a case has what is known as original jurisdiction. In the state court system, trial courts are usually the first to hear a case and in the federal court system, this authority is generally reserved to federal district courts. At times, and in very rare and limited circumstances, the United State Supreme Court could be the first to hear a case.

Whether a case originates in the county, state or federal court system may be based on the following:

  • The residences of the persons named in the suit
  • The subject matter of the case
  • The amount of money in controversy in the case
  • Federal courts’ original jurisdiction is usually limited to cases involving federal law claims
  • Diversity of citizenship comes into play if the parties in the case have different citizenships
  • If the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000
  • Any case that does not meet the requisites to start in a federal court will appropriately be heard in a lower court. If a losing party in a trial feels that the court ruled in error, then the next step would be filing an appeal of that ruling

The above list is not an exhaustive list of circumstances which a court may consider to establish jurisdiction. No matter where a case originates if a losing party in a trial feels that the court ruled in error, then the next step would be filing an appeal of that ruling. A losing party always has the right to file an appeal of the court’s ruling unless the court is the US Supreme Court which is always the final ruling.

The Timing of Appealing a Court Ruling

When filing an appeal to an appellate court, the party that is appealing the court’s ruling needs to follow very strict timing guidelines and rules to maintain the court’s jurisdiction. If you miss the timing of filing the appeal, the court will lose the jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and the lower court’s ruling will stand. In many cases, you hear that the statute of limitations has passed, and a party cannot be sued for this or that. This is a case of the court losing the jurisdiction to hear a case based on the timing of the filing. Timing and jurisdiction are critical to your ability to appeal a case. In many cases you may have only about 15 days to appeal a court’s ruling and time is not on your side. Many states have different timelines that must be followed and have different timelines based on the seriousness of the crime. It is key that you hire an attorney that is experienced in the appeals process and hiring an appellate attorney may be in your best interest.

An appeal must show that an error of some sort has occurred during the lower court’s proceedings, rulings or interpretations law and the facts of the case. You can not just appeal the ruling because it was not in your favor. There must be a solid legal reason for the appeal to have a retrial at the appellate level. The legal error must have been brought up and made note of in the first trial, and the error must have been significant enough to materially affect the finding of the court.

Do you really need an appellate attorney?

The smart answer is yes; you will need an appellate attorney and in most cases, you should not use your original trial attorney. Of course, this will depend on the experience of your original attorney, but you must understand that an appeal is a totally different court matter than the first trial. It could be just the presentation of written briefs or just an oral argument heard by a panel of judges, without a jury being present. Each side will usually have about 15 minutes to present their arguments to the court. Only the facts that were presented at trial and are in the official court record can be appealed. New information can not be presented unless the information was omitted from the first trial in error. Most normal trial attorneys are not experienced in appellate law, and the attorney that first handled your case may not see the picture as clearly as a seasoned appellate attorney.

Some common reason to file an appeal on legal grounds are:

  • The court did not have standing or the proper jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place
  • Improper jury instructions
  • Exclusion of evidence
  • Improper admission of evidence
  • False arrest
  • Prosecutor misconduct
  • Sentencing errors
  • Juror misconduct
  • Improper actions of defense counsel

You must remember that the appeal is no more than a review of what happened in the lower court. Only courts with appellate jurisdiction can hear appeals from a lower court, reviewing the lower court’s ruling and possibly changing or reversing that ruling. Circuit courts usually hear initial appeals but which state court will hear an appeal can vary depending upon the state you are filing in. In some cases, a Superior Court will hear an appeal or the case may move up to the state Supreme Court. In the United States, the United States Supreme Court is the highest court, usually only hearing cases appealed from the highest state court of from the Federal United States Court of Appeals. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has the discretionary authority over which cases it will hear and if a case has a significant influence over the laws of the land the Supreme Court may step in early to hear the case.

In Conclusion

Appellate law can be intense and in most cases, the findings of an appellate court will be the final say in your case. At times, the appellate court may send a case back to the lower court for a retrial or a case may move up to a higher appeals court and in very rare cases to the US Supreme Court. Whether you win or lose your appeal will depend on following very strict guidelines and hiring an experienced appellate attorney will be a key element to winning your case.