Contrary to what most people believe based on the average courtroom drama depicted on television and in the movies, the good guys don’t always win at trial. In fact, it’s fairly common for the good guys to lose because they put too much emphasis on “playing fair” and not enough emphasis on “winning the case.”
In situations like this, many people assume an appeal just gives them a built-in second chance. The reality is appealing a judge’s decision or a court order has to follow some rather inflexible rules and isn’t always the best course of action. So how do you know if you should file an appeal or not?
Mistakes of Law
There are some legal eventualities that can’t be appealed no matter how you feel about the outcome. For example, in many states, a small claims case may only be appealed on the grounds a judge made a legal error, and not on the merits or facts of the case. Usually these kinds of appeals must be filed within a short time period and require a fair amount of preparation ahead of time.
Potential appellants might also want to note the fact that small claims court and appeals courts are two different venues with different sets of rules. In North Carolina and Virginia, for example, small claims appeals may be presented to a jury. Most appeals courts allow attorneys as well, so while in California you might not have been allowed to be represented by counsel before the small claims judge, you may be allowed to retain counsel for the appeal (click here to find out more). This may or may not be a good option depending on the amount at issue and the complexity of the case.
Upon Further Review
One method of determining if you are eligible for appeal is to ask yourself what you are petitioning the appeals court to change about your case. If it is a factual dispute, where you are about to tell the appeals judges something that starts with “yeah, but” and then re-outline your disagreement with the defendant or plaintiff, there is a high likelihood your case isn’t eligible. However, if the opposite is true, and you are going to point out to the appeals court an error on the part of the judge who heard the case originally, you likely are eligible to appeal.
The Clock Is Running
The very moment the gavel sounds on your small claims or other civil action, the clock starts on the filing deadline for your appeal. You absolutely must be prompt in filing otherwise you may be permanently barred from further litigation in the matter. If you can’t prepare your appeal in time, you might want to avoid further action. It is often a good idea to wait 24 to 48 hours before you file an appeal in any event, as that will give you time to consider your options. Contact the Clerk of the Court to find out what the deadline is for your state and venue. Even if you need extra time, file the appeal first, then ask for a continuance. If you reverse that procedure there is no guarantee it will succeed.
Trials are stressful, no doubt about it. However, they can be successfully navigated if you follow some basic rules and make sure you stay within the boundaries of the court’s procedures.
Author information: Anica Oaks is a professional content and copywriter who graduated from the University of San Francisco. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she’s used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here.