Differences Between Trial & Appeal Court

By Samantha Kemp
Learn the differences between trial and appellate courts.

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If you have not received a satisfactory verdict or ruling in a case, don’t worry. You can probably appeal. While trial courts deal with the facts in question, appellate courts are concerned with whether the law has been properly applied and will review any perceived judicial mistakes. Trial courts and appellate courts also differ in other ways, such as the presentation of evidence, timing and the ruling party.

Timing

Trial court will be the first court to hear your case. After a verdict has been rendered, you may ask for your case to be heard in an appellate court if you are dissatisfied with the verdict. In 39 states an intermediate appellate court will hear the case. In the smallest 11 states, your appeal will be heard in the state’s supreme court. Additionally, trial courts have trials that last for months or even years. An appellate court will typically impose a time limit on the argument that is usually less than a day.

Evidence

In trial court, both sides present evidence, witnesses and testimony. The judge determines the general facts of the case and makes rulings based on existing matters of law. Appellate courts do not hear witness testimony or examine new evidence. Nor do they review the facts regarding the case. The appellate court is more concerned with judgments the trial judge made during the trial, such as whether certain evidence was admissible or if she made an appropriate decision regarding the interpretation of a law.

Cases

Trial courts determine the outcome of both civil and criminal matters. If a person has been charged with the commission of a crime, his case will occur in a trial court. Similarly, if a person pursues a lawsuit against a corporation, her case will be heard in a trial court. Appellate courts only hear cases that have already been tried in a trial court. A party can appeal a case unless the case involves a person who has been found “not guilty” of a crime.

Power

Both trial court and appellate court’s decisions are binding on the parties involved. Trial courts are required to follow precedent. As attorney Jay O'Keeffe states, “They want to know what the law is, not what it should be.” Additionally, appellate courts have the power to remand a case, sending it back to the lower trial court with instructions, whether the appellate court is asking for reconsideration or a completely new trial. Thus, appellate courts have more power and can overrule the lower trial court’s ruling.

Ruling Party

In trial courts, a judge and jury are present. The jury makes the verdict based on the juror’s interpretation of the case’s facts. The right to a jury can be waived in favor of a bench ruling, but its presence is legally permitted. In appellate courts, usually two or three judges hear the argument and make a ruling.

Consequences

A trial court’s decision affects only the parties to the suit. Appellate court decisions have the potential to affect many other people due to the binding nature of the appellate court‘s decision on all other courts in the circuit or state.

About the Author

Samantha Kemp is a lawyer for a general practice firm. She has been writing professionally since 2009. Her articles focus on legal issues, personal finance, business and education. Kemp acquired her JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She also has degrees in economics and business and teaching.

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