Appeals Defined

An appeal is a legal proceeding in which one party asks a higher court to review one or more of the decisions made by a lower court. If the higher court disagrees with something that happened in the lower court, it can order the case to be changed in some way.

Put simply, an appeal is a way of fixing mistakes. When a party to a legal action disagrees with how the law was applied in a lower court, an appeal can sometimes help.

Who Can Appeal

An appeal can be filed by one or more of the parties to a court case. Usually, people who are not directly involved in the case are not permitted to file an appeal, although there are some exceptions.

The party that files the appeal is usually called the appellant, and the opposing party is usually called the respondent or appellee.

What Can Be Argued

Appeals are primarily concerned with challenging legal errors made by the court below—not just incorrect factual determinations. So, on appeal, the parties argue about whether the law was correctly applied in the court below.

New evidence is prohibited in an appeal, except in unusual cases. This means that an appeal is not a new trial or an opportunity to relitigate facts.

Factual determinations can, however, be challenged if: the evidence was legally insufficient to support the finding reached, or there was a legal error that affected how the determination was reached.

Time to Appeal

Appeals are usually filed a party after a final judgment is issued by the lower court. Sometimes a party can seek legal relief before a final judgment is entered.

The exact deadline can vary depending on: the type of case, the order being appealed from, and the way the parties were notified about the entry of judgment.

Deadlines to appeal are often fairly short, normally ranging from 14 days to about 60 days (although some unusual cases have a deadline as high as 180 days after the entry of judgment).

It is important that people wanting to appeal know the exact deadline for their case.

How Appeals Begin

In California, appeals begin when a document called a “notice of appeal” is filed in the lower court.

If a party wants the decision of a court of appeal changed, they can file a petition for review in the supreme court (in federal court this is called a petition for writ of certiorari).

Where Appeals are Filed

In California state courts, the exact location of where a notice of appeal must be filed (or where the appeal will be argued) depends on the type of case and the location of the lower court.

Usually, a notice of appeal must be filed in the trial court where the matter was first heard. The case will then be transferred to either: the appellate division of the same superior court, or one of California’s six district courts of appeal.

California’s Court Structure

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The Hierarchy

Appellate District Jurisdiction

 First District  Second District  Third District  Fourth District  Fifth District  Sixth District

A Look at Recent Trends

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Court Reversal Statistics

The Judicial Council of California releases annual court statistics reports detailing the trends in California courts. The 2015 report (which is available here) included the data below from 2013 appellate cases.

Please note that these charts are posted here purely for educational purposes, and do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

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Areas Serving

  • California State Courts
  • Federal District Court
  • Ninth Circuit


  • Criminal Appeals
  • Civil Appeals
  • Post-Trial Litigation
  • Writs & Petitions

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I’m not like other lawyers. I won’t try to fit you into a box. I recognize that every client is different, so I will take the time to understand your needs. I am here to help.

Kyle D. Smith