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What You Need to Know About State and Federal Appellate Courts

Sometimes, a strong legal argument with thorough supporting evidence is not enough to convince a judge or jury that you should prevail. Fortunately, the framers of our American legal system recognized the potential for juries to misinterpret facts, misunderstand the law, or become improperly swayed by irrelevant or overly prejudicial testimony – creating our appellate court system as a result. If you recently lost your case or would like to work with Ft. Lauderdale appellate attorneys on your lawsuit, we encourage you to give us a call right away. Under the law, there is a very short window within which a losing party can initiate an appeal – and failure to file by the deadline could result in a waiver of the claim.

Standards of Review in Appellate Court

Unlike a trial, an appellate court will generally not allow the introduction of new evidence, including additional testimony or objections not preserved on the trial record. In most appeals, the appealing party (known as the “appellant”) must file an appeal setting forth the reasons why the trial court judgment was in error, and the court can only reverse the ruling under certain circumstances.

In Florida, there are generally three “standards of review,” which is a term referring to the level of trial misconduct or error that must be found in order to disturb, or overturn, the verdict. The first standard, known as de novo review, is used when the appellate attorney disagrees with the trial court’s interpretation of the law or a legal document (e.g., a contract or the language of a mortgage). This type of review does not require the court to consider factual matters, and allows the court to review the matter from the same starting point as the trial court. In other words, the appellate judge need not give any deference to the trial court judge’s decision.

The second standard of review, known as the competent substantial evidence standard, is applied to an appeal begging review of a question of fact. For example, imagine in a personal injury case, the trial court found that Driver A was at fault for colliding with Driver B after a finding that – according to phone records – Driver B was using a handheld device immediately prior to the incident. If Driver B appeals this ruling on the grounds he was not, in fact, on the phone at the time of the incident, the appellate court will defer to the findings of the trial court and, absent a finding of clear and obvious error, will not overturn the ruling.

Lastly, as your appellate lawyers will advise, certain trial court rulings are generally not appealable absent a finding that the trial court abused its power and discretion by issuing the ruling. These could include the granting of a continuance, routine procedural rulings, limiting voir dire, or asking counsel to limit opening and closing statements.

Contact an Appellate Attorney Today

If you are on the losing end of a recent trial court decision and would like to explore your options on appeal, please contact a Fort Lauderdale appellate attorney at Michael L. Feinstein, P.A. today. You can reach us by calling 954-767-9662.