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What is an appeal in California?

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Answered by: Jeffrey Lewis

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An appeal is not the same thing as a regular trial, or a do-over of the original trial. An appeal seeks not to retry a case, or decide who is right and who is wrong, but to determine if the original trial had been fair. The Court of Appeal does not re-weigh evidence or credibility. The Court of Appeal focuses on legal issues and whether any errors were made by the trial court. If a person wins their appeal, it does not necessarily mean that now they’ve won the case; most times it simply means that they have won the chance at a new trial. 

Why getting an appeals lawyer is a good idea 

The process and arguments used in an appeal are different than what are used in a trial. For that reason, people who want to appeal might be better off hiring an appellate lawyer rather than continuing to use the lawyer who handled the trial. Sometimes appeals can fail just because the trial lawyer is not familiar with the appeals processes and documents that are required. Other times the trial lawyer may be so invested in their vision for the case that they lose the disinterested perspective on the case that an appeals lawyer would have. 

What happens to the trial lawyer during the appeal? 

During the appeals process, a person’s trial lawyer often serves as co-counsel throughout the appeal. If the appeal is successful and there will be a new trial after the appeal, generally the case then goes back to the trial lawyer for the rest of the case. 

Published vs. unpublished opinions 

The results of an appeal are contained within a court opinion. Some opinions become published, and some do not. Whether an opinion gets published depends on if the case could serve as precedent for future similar cases. A case can be used as precedent if some new or noteworthy argument in the case prevailed. For civil appeals in practice areas such as family law, probate, real estate or anti-SLAPP cases, published opinions can lay the groundwork for how future cases are to be resolved, and can help determine which cases in the future get sent back to be retried, and which do not. 

The advantage of hiring an appellate attorney

Of 200,000 lawyers in California, only 600 are certified by the State Bar as specialists in appellate law. Certified appellate specialists know the appeals system well, have passed a second bar exam, take extra classes each year and have received favorable evaluations from judges and attorneys familiar with their work. The lawyer a person chooses for their appeal can make all the difference in whether they receive another trial. Both the person who lost the original trial and the person who won can benefit from hiring a lawyer who is well-versed in appellate law to represent them during the appeal.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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