Florida Appeals - Frequently Asked Questions
The following is general information, not legal advice. It applies primarily to Florida civil and criminal appeals in state or federal courts, but not necessarily to appeals in other states.
Q: What is an appeal?A: After a lower court, such as a trial court or administrative court, has reached a final judgment in a case, a dissatisfied party may "appeal" the lower court's decision to a higher court, called an "appellate court." An appeal is a request for the appellate court to review and change the decision of the lower court.
Q: How soon after the final judgment must I start the appeal process?A: In Florida state courts, you have 30 days after the final judgment in a civil or criminal case for you or your attorney to file a notice of appeal with the lower court. (Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.110(b), 9.140(a)). In Florida federal courts, you have 30 days for a civil appeal and 14 days for a criminal appeal. (Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(A), 4(b)(1)(A)). This is why you must act quickly to get appellate representation after you have received a final judgment against you. It is often a good idea to be shopping for an appellate attorney while your case is still ongoing in the lower court. If you have missed the appeal deadline in a criminal case, it is sometimes possible (but not guaranteed) that the appellate court may still be persuaded to accept your appeal.
Q: What are my chances of getting my case reversed on appeal?A: Getting a case, either civil or criminal, reversed on appeal may be difficult because the appellate court begins with the presumption that the lower court's judgment was correct. Nevertheless, a substantial number of cases are reversed on appeal. You have a better chance of prevailing if you have an experienced appellate attorney working for you.
Therefore, if your trial attorney thinks that you have a strong issue for appeal, it may well be worthwhile to take the case to an appellate court. Your likelihood of getting a reversal on appeal depends on the specific facts and law applicable to your case. Many firms, including mine, offer a free consultation to help you determine if you have a reasonable chance of winning on appeal.
Q: How long does the appeal process take?A: An appeal is not usually a quick process because appellate courts prefer to take their time to ensure that they reach the right decision. An appeal may take a year or more. Some appeals take two years or more, but that is not common.
Q: How much money will an appeal cost me?A: That depends on such factors as the length of your trial and the number and complexity of the legal issues that can reasonably be raised in your appeal. This is something you can discuss as part of your initial consultation with your appellate attorney. Your attorney may also be able to work out an hourly rate or a flat rate, depending on which is best for you. You will probably have to pay for certain costs, such as the initial filing fee and transcript costs. There are certain situations in civil cases in which the opposing party may be required to pay all or part of your attorney's fees for you. Discuss these matters with your appellate attorney in your initial consultation.
Q: What happens in an appeal?A: An appeal involves written documents, called "briefs," filed by the attorneys for the parties, and often also includes oral argument by the attorneys before a panel of judges. The party who seeks review of the lower court decision by an appellate court, is called the "appellant." The appellant's lawyer files an initial brief with the appellate court. This initial brief explains to the judges the appellant's interpretation of the facts and the law that apply to the case and the reasons why the appellant believes that the lower court's judgment was mistaken. The lawyer for the party who won in the lower court, called the "appellee," then files an answer brief explaining why the appellee believes that the lower court was correct in its final judgment. The appellant then has the option of filing a reply brief in response to the appellee's arguments. If the appellate court permits, the attorneys may participate in oral argument before a panel of judges about the merits of their cases. Oftentimes, however, the appellate court makes a decision based entirely on the written briefs without holding oral argument.
The facts cited in the attorneys' legal briefs are based on the "record on appeal," which consists of documents filed in the case and transcripts of the trial and other court hearings. The appeal is entirely a review of whether the trial court made the correct legal decisions based on the information it had at the time. Appeal attorneys may not introduce new evidence or bring in witnesses to testify. At the oral argument, only the attorneys may argue; parties and witnesses may be present but are not allowed to testify or argue the appeal to the judges (unless you are in the unfortunate position of having to represent yourself in an appeal).
An appellate court decision is usually not made by one judge alone, but by a panel of at least three judges. The appellate court may "affirm" the lower court's judgment, which means that the appellate court finds that the lower court reached the right conclusion in the case and that its judgment still stands. Or the appellate court may "reverse" the lower court's judgment because the lower court made legal errors that prevented the appellant from receiving a fair trial. When the appellate court reverses a lower court, it "remands" (sends back) the case to the lower court, either for a new trial or with other instructions that are appropriate to the case.