Appealing Your Case at the DC Court of Appeals
A Personal Decision to AppealIf you have lost a case by a judge or a jury, you can ask a higher court to look at the lower court's decision. Whether to do so is an intensely personal and important decision.
Sometimes the person who has lost is relieved that the trial is over and wants to get on with his or her life. Appealing a case can also be quite costly.
Other people are convinced that justice has not been served, and even that the judge or jury was just plain wrong. For them, appealing a case is the thing to do.
You should seek advice from a lawyer and everyone whom you trust for personal advice. Ultimately, you are the one to decide whether to appeal.
One thing is certain, though: no one should represent herself or himself on appeal.
Tell the Court You're Going to AppealFile a "Notice of Appeal:" with the Clerk of the Superior Court, preferably within 30 days of when Superior Court reached its decision. Forms are available here:
While you are filling out the Notice of Appeal form, you should have the "court jacket" handy. This is a file of key papers in your case and will remind you of key dates and who court reporters were. You'll need to know this information when you order transcripts. For criminal cases, ask the clerk in Room 4001; for civil cases, Room 5000.
You must also pay a fee of $100.00.
A copy of the lower court's judgment must be attached to the notice of appeal.
Order TranscriptsTranscripts can be ordered in Room 5500 of the Moultrie courthouse (500 Indiana Avenue, N.W.) The court jacket will provide key information you'll need, such as dates and kinds of proceedings, who the court reporter was, or whether things were recorded on tape instead.
Ordinarily, the person who is appealing must pay for the transcript. This can be expensive, $3.65 per page, unless you want it quicker. For $20.000, you can get a crude electronic copy.
To save money, you can avoid ordering transcripts where little happened, such as at rescheduling hearings.
Preparing and Filing the BriefThe heart and soul of an appeal is the brief, not oral arguments. A brief is a document explains what happened in your case, what went wrong, and why it was wrong.
A briefs must follow a certain format and include certain things, such as a table of contents and have an appendix that includes a copy of the decision in Superior Court and key parts of the transcript. Follow especially Rules 28 and 30:
Be warned that there some highly technical things, though, that the rules require but do not explain. "Standard of review, for example."
Legal argument involves saying what the rules are and how the facts in your case fit within those rules. Many rules are explained in cases. A winning brief discusses the the best cases that stand for the legal point you are trying to make. It is difficult to find the cases you need adn weave them into a compelling legal argument.
Bad Lawyering at TrialIf a person is convicted of a crime and thinks that his or her lawyer did not do an adequate job at trial, the issue is considered first by the trial judge and not the Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the Court of Appeals considers the other issues besides "ineffective assistance of counsel," as it is called.
If you feel that you can claim ineffective assistance of counsel, you should file what is loosely called a "twenty-three-one-ten motion" at Superior Court and ask for a new trial. Do this while you are appealing the rest of the legal issues in your case.
Response and ReplyAfter the person appealing the case -- also known as the Appellant -- has filed his or her brief, the other side (Appellee) gets to file theirs, if they want. Appellee's briefs try to disprove the Appellant's points. The Appellant can then file a Reply to the other side's brief, if desired.
Oral ArgumentsIf the Court of Appeals decides to hear your case, three judges will hear oral arguments. You do not have to be there, but if you decide to attend, you should wear a suit. You may also bring a pen and paper for taking notes.
Your side will go first. Most cases will have only 15 minutes per side. After the judges have listened to your side and asked you questions, the other side will have its turn. If you asked to "reserve time for rebuttal," your side can respond to what the other side said.
If you argue your case yourself, rehearse it well. Be ready for what the government might say. Also be alert to weak spots in your own case and be ready to answer judges questions about them.
This phase, too, requires a skilled lawyer to do well, whatever you feel are the merits of your case.
Await the DecisionThe District of Columbia Court of Appeals tries to complete its decision within months of hearing oral arguments. Often it takes less time than that, sometimes more, especially in a particularly difficult case.
Ask the Court to ReconsiderIf you lose, you can ask the judges to reconsider your case. This is called a "Petition for Rehearing by the Division," and you should file it within 14 days of when the Court of Appeals decided your case. At the same time, you can also ask the whole Court of Appeals to reconsider the case. This is called a "rehearing en banc." See Rules 35 and 40. http://www.dcappeals.gov/dccourts/docs/DCCA_Rules.pdf Your petition must explain why the decision on appeal was wrong. Unfortunately, few cases are heard again.
Appeal to the U.S. Supreme CourtYou can ask the Supreme Court of the United States to consider your case after you have followed Steps 1-9 and have still lost. The Supreme Court has a guide for you to follow:
Here, too, you had best not represent yourself. This is a daunting task, even for the best lawyers.
It is important to understand that the U.S. Supreme Court is not required to hear your case. Indeed, out of the thousands of cases the Supreme Court is asked to consider, it will hear less than a hundred a year. With a good lawyer, though, you will have a better chance at persuading the Court to take your case.