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Appellate court

An appellate court is one which hears cases in which a "lower" court -- either a "trial court" or a lower-level appellate court -- has already made some decision, which at least one party to the action wants to challenge. The appellate court examines the evidence presented in the trial court and the law that the lower court applied and decides whether that decision was legally sound or not. If the court finds no defect, it "affirms" the judgment. If the appellate court does find a legal defect in the decision "below," it may "modify" the ruling to correct the defect, or it may nullify (or "reverse[?]") the whole decision or any part of it and send the case back (or "remand") to the lower court to re-do to remedy the defect. Sometimes the appellate court finds a defect in the procedure the parties used in filing the appeal and dismisses the appeal without considering its merits, which has the same effect as affirming the judgment below. (This would happen, for example, if the appellant waited too long, under the appellate court's rules, to file the appeal, or if the appellant used the wrong sized paper or wrong type font for its briefs.)

There is no trial in an appellate court, only consideration of the evidence presented to the trial court and the arguments of the parties to the appeal (through their lawyers, if they are represented, or pro se if they are not). Those arguments are presented in written "briefs" and sometimes in "oral argument" to the court at a "hearing." A party who files an appeal is an appellant, and a party on the other side is an appellee. More than one of the parties to the case in the lower court can appeal the ruling, and when both sides do, they are said to "cross appeal," because each party is both an appellant and an appellee. Sometimes all the parties to the case appeal from the trial court's ruling.

Appeals are always civil matters, even when the judgment being appealed was in a criminal case.



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