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In its broadest sense an "appeal" is a formal request that a "higher" body -- typically a higher court -- review the action, procedure, or decision of a lower court, administrative agency, or other body. Please note that we (and the media) will be using the term "appeals" colloquially to include several proceedings such as a "Petition for Certiorari" that have other formal legal names.

An appeal normally may be taken by the party who loses or did not get all the relief he, she or it sought. If both parties are dissatisfied, each may appeal part of the decision.

What is the basis for an appeal?
The principal grounds for appeal are (1) that the lower court made a serious error of law and/or (2) that the verdict in the trial was against the weight of the evidence. "Harmless errors" that are unlikely to have made a substantial impact on the result are not a basis for reversing the judgment of a lower court.

How many appeals can there be?
As a general rule, the final judgment of a lower court can be appealed to the next higher court only once. In any one case, the number of appeals thus depends on how many courts are "superior" to the court that made the decision, and sometimes what the next high court decides or what the basis for your appeal is.

In the large states, there are three or even four levels of courts, while in some less populous states there are only two. There are important differences in the time limits, rules, and procedures depending on whether the case was brought in Federal court or state court. Different rules apply in each state. Also, often even within a state there are different rules depending on which court tried the case.

Most state courts require "finality" before an appeal -- in much the same way as Federal courts -- but there are many minor differences. A few states, such as New York, do not require "finality" for appeals. In such states, it is very common for parties to appeal decisions such as a denial of a motion for summary judgment (a motion that asks a court to decide the case on the law where there is no substantial dispute about the facts). In such jurisdictions, there are many more appeals.

We strongly recommend that, if wish to appeal your case, you should consult a lawyer experienced in appellate matters. Appeals are one area of the law that require the expertise of a lawyer who will help you assess your case. The average person cannot adequately handle them alone.

How do appeals in federal cases work?
For appeals in the Federal courts, the United States is divided into eleven geographical areas, called "circuits". The District of Columbia also has a separate court system and a separate Court of Appeals. In each circuit, there is a Court of Appeals that hears virtually all appeals from all the United States District Courts in the states (and territories) assigned to that circuit.

Can any lawyer argue a case before the u.s. supreme court?
Almost every American lawyer can apply for admission to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States and get admitted. That carries with it the right to argue cases before the Supreme Court. However we don’t advocate using just "any lawyer" or much less, trying to represent yourself at that level. Practice before the Supreme Court of the United States is very highly specialized and not for the uninitiated apprentice.

One of the dangers in appeals to the Supreme Court is that a lawyer whose Petition for Certiorari is granted often grabs the "chance of a lifetime" to argue the case. (Since so few cases are heard by the Supreme Court it is considered very prestigious for a lawyer to have argued a case there.) However, as in most other aspects of legal practice, experience often carries the day.

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