Appellate review is a term referring to the power that a higher court has to examine decisions of lower courts. Appellate review may serve the goal of correcting an error in the way that matters of the law were decided in the lower court. Alternately, appellate review can serve in the creation of precedent. In these instances, a case raises a new issue of law to which previous cases do not apply. The case is then appealed to a higher court so that the legal issue may be decided and principles may be created to be followed and anticipated in future disputes. Generally, the appellate review only addresses issues of law; factual findings of the lower courts are not disputed.

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In law, an appeal is a process for requesting a formal change to a previous legal determination. Depending on the circumstances, appeals may be made to the same authority or to a higher judicial authority.<2> 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.

Types of appeals

All appeals are either "as of right" or discretionary. As the name implies, "as of right" means that the appellant is legally entitled, or has a right, to the appeal. These appeals are taken at the resolution of a case once a judgment has become final. Discretionary appeals, also as the name implies, are taken at the discretion of the appellate court that will hear the case. The appellant must move, or ask, the appellate court for permission to appeal. The appellate court may then either grant or deny that request. All appeals heard by the United States Supreme Court are discretionary. Parties submit a petition to the court known as writs of certiorari.<3>

Appellate procedure

Appellate procedure, including the process of determining whether there is a right of appeal in a particular decision, varies greatly from country to country. Even within a jurisdiction, the nature of an appeal can vary greatly depending on the type of case. When reviewing errors of the lower court, the appellate court focuses on errors of a legal nature; appellate courts do not usually disturb factual findings.<1>

Filing an appeal

A party who files an appeal is called an appellant or petitioner, and the opposing party is known as an appellee or a respondent.<4> The appellant is the party who, having lost part or all of their claim in a lower court decision, is appealing to a higher court with appellate jurisdiction to have their case reconsidered. This is usually done based on the allegation that the lower court judge erred in his or her application of the law, but one may also appeal a decision based on the assumption of court misconduct or on the belief that the evidence was not strong enough to justify the conclusion.<5>

The appellant in the new case can be either the plaintiff (or claimant), defendant, or respondent (appellee) from the lower case, depending on who was the losing party. The winning party from the lower court, however, is now the respondent. In unusual cases, the appellant—though he or she was the victor in the court below—may still appeal.<6>

Decisions on appeal

The appellant"s case is normally reviewed by a panel of judges at the appellate level. These judges will look at the "record" of the case from the lower court. This record is the documentation of the case—including all the pleadings, motions, and memoranda filed with the court, transcripts from pre-trial, trial, and post-trial hearings, and trial exhibits. Other than the written brief submitted by each party and the oral argument (if applicable), the appellate judges cannot look beyond this record in making its decision.<7>

After reviewing the case, the appellate court can choose to:

Affirm (uphold) the lower court"s judgment, Reverse the lower court"s judgment entirely and remand (return) the case to the lower court for a new trial, or

Appellate courts

An appellate court is a court that hears cases on appeal from another court. Depending on the particular legal rules that apply to each circumstance, a party to a court case who is unhappy with the result might be able to challenge that result in an appellate court on specific grounds. These grounds typically could include errors of law, fact or procedure (in the United States, due process).

Appellate courts in the United States include the United States Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court in the federal court system and intermediate appellate courts and state supreme courts in state judiciaries.

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In different jurisdictions, appellate courts may also be called appeals courts, courts of appeals, superior courts or supreme courts.


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