If you received an adverse result after taking your case to trial, you may be considering an appeal. One common mistake is believing the appellate court provides the opportunity to re-argue your case from the ground up.
That is not how the California appellate system works.
Before deciding to appeal your case, you must understand three major differences between the trial court and the appellate court:
- Burden of Proof
- Judicial Presumptions
- Legal Inferences
Appellate courts have a narrow, limited scope of review, and follow different rules, procedures, and standards than the trial court.
Issues of fact versus issues of law
The trial court must consider all issues of fact, such as who was present at an event, what they heard and saw, or which documents were signed. The trial judge then either instructs a jury on the relevant laws, or if there is no jury, the judge applies the law to reach a decision.
Appellate courts do not usually review issues of fact. Once the trial judge or jury has established a fact during the trial, the appellate court will not ordinarily challenge that fact.
Burden of Proof
At the trial level, the party bringing the action has the burden of proving their case, either by a preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt, depending on the type of case. At the appellate level, the original burden does not apply.
Instead, the party asking for the appellate review, known as the appellant, usually has the burden to prove nearly everything, regardless of who had the burden at trial. Since the appellate court’s job is to review errors of law, the appellant has the burden to prove that the trial judge or jury made legal errors that prejudiced the appellant.
Presumptions on appeal
In an appeal, the trial court’s decision is presumed correct. Accordingly, the appellate court will indulge all presumptions and inferences in favor of the trial ruling to uphold that decision. The appellant must prove the trial court made legal errors that caused an improper decision that should be overturned.
The appellate court can uphold the trial court’s decision for any lawful basis, not only the theories used by the judge or jury. Simply stated, the appellate court reviews the final ruling, not the reasoning behind it.
If the evidence presented at trial is conflicting, the appellate court will accept the version that supports the judgment. Also, the appellate court will only review an issue if a record was made at the trial court level.
This means the trial lawyers must have raised the legal issue in written briefs or oral arguments, or by making an offer of proof at the trial. If the court record doesn’t raise and dispute a legal issue, that issue will not be preserved for an appeal.
How To Win An Appeal
A successful appeal is like being up to bat, with 2 outs, 3 balls, 2 strikes, and fully-loaded bases. The batter must hit a homerun and even then, might be called out. In order to win on appeal, an appellant must show:
- The trial court erred as a matter of law;
- The appellant was prejudiced by that error; and
- The trial ruling cannot be upheld on any legal ground.
Overall, appealing a case is a monumental task for the appellant, and most appeals fail. It is a complicated process to preserve the issues, prepare the record, and argue a winning appeal.
Before you decide to file an appeal, you should consider your likelihood of prevailing and the cost to bring your appeal. At Evans Kingsbury LLP, we have decades of appellate experience. Attorney Noreen Evans is certified by the State Bar as a specialist in civil appeals and writs. Let us review your case and discuss your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome. We usually work closely with your trial counsel to reduce your expenses and ensure that all issues are presented.
But if a judgment has been entered against you, you must act fast, before your window of appellate opportunity closes. If a Notice of Appeal is not timely filed, the appellate court will have no jurisdiction to hear your case.
Call us at (707) 596-6090 and we’ll be in touch soon.