An appeal is the act or fact of challenging a judicially cognizable and binding judgment to a higher judicial authority. In common law jurisdictions, most commonly, this means formally filing a notice of appeal with a lower court, indicating one's intention to take the matter to the next higher court with jurisdiction over the matter, and then actually filing the appeal with the appropriate appellate court.
The United States legal system generally recognizes two types of appeals: a trial de novo or an appeal on the record.
A trial de novo is usually available for review of informal proceedings conducted by administrative agency, referees, masters, commissioners and some minor judicial tribunals in proceedings that do not provide all the procedural attributes of a formal judicial trial. If unchallenged, these decisions have the power to settle more minor legal disputes once and for all. If a party is dissatisfied with the finding of such a tribunal, one generally has the power to request a trial de novo by a court of record. In such a proceeding, all issues and evidence may be developed newly, as though never heard before, and one is not restricted to the evidence heard in the lower proceeding. Sometimes, however, the decision of the lower proceeding is itself admissible as evidence, thus helping to curb frivolous appeals.
In an appeal on the record from a decision in a judicial proceeding, both appellant and respondent are bound to base their arguments wholly on the proceedings and body of evidence as they were presented in the lower tribunal. Each seeks to prove to the higher court that the result they desired was the just result. Precedent and case law figure prominently in the arguments. In order for the appeal to succeed, the appellant must prove that the lower court committed reversible error, that is, an impermissible action by the court acted to cause a result that was unjust, and which would not have resulted had the court acted properly. Some examples of reversible error would be erroneously instructing the jury on the law applicable to the case, permitting seriously improper argument by an attorney, admitting or excluding evidence improperly, acting outside the court's jurisdiction, injecting bias into the proceeding or appearing to do so, juror misconduct, etc. Varian v. Delfino is a well known example of jurisdictional error that resulted in complete reversal. The failure to formally object at the time, to what one views as improper action in the lower court, may result in the affirmance of the lower court's judgment on the grounds that one did not "preserve the issue for appeal" by objecting.
In cases where a judge rather than a jury decided issues of fact, an appellate court will apply an abuse of discretion standard of review. Under this standard, the appellate court gives deference to the lower court's view of the evidence, and reverses its decision only if it was a clear abuse of discretion. This is usually defined as a decision outside the bounds of reasonableness. On the other hand, the appellate court normally gives less deference to a lower court's decision on issues of law, and may reverse if it finds that the lower court applied the wrong legal standard.
In some rare cases, an appellant may successfully argue that the law under which the lower decision was rendered was unconstitutional or otherwise invalid, or may convince the higher court to order a new trial on the basis that evidence earlier sought was concealed or only recently discovered. In the case of new evidence, there must be a high probability that its presence or absence would have made a material difference in the trial. Another issue suitable for appeal in criminal cases is effective assistance of counsel. If a defendant has been convicted and can prove that his lawyer did not adequately handle his case and that there is a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different had the lawyer given competent representation, he is entitled to a new trial.
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