Direct Appeals

Florida Direct Appeals

Florida has five intermediate appellate courts, each having jurisdiction over a certain number of the judicial circuits. Orlando, for example, is part of the Ninth Judicial District and appeals are heard by the judges of the Fifth District Court of Appeal. In Tallahassee, the First District Court of Appeal has jurisdiction. In Tampa, the Second District Court of Appeal has jurisdiction. Determining which District Court of Appeal is the proper venue to bring your appeal is an important first step.

 

Notice of Appeal

In Florida, you have 30 days from the date that you are sentenced and the judgment is entered during which to file a Notice of Appeal in the trial court. This is a time-critical deadline because if you wait too long, you can lose important rights not only to direct review but also other post-conviction rights. The Notice of Appeal is often filed together with Designations to the Clerk and Directions to the Court Reporter. These filings identify what parts of the court file and which transcripts are included. Not everything needs to be included but it is IMPERATIVE that every essential part is included. The District Court of Appeal will consider ONLY those items in the Record on Appeal.

 

What Happens After an Appeal is Filed?

Once the Record on Appeal is prepared, it is transmitted to the District Court of Appeal and to the appellate lawyers for the parties. It is from this Record that each side will present its appeal. The Defendant, now called the Appellant, will file an Initial or Opening Brief. He will identify the history of the case in the trial court, the relevant facts from the record in the trial court, the issues the Appellant wants the District Court of Appeals to review, and the legal argument in favor of granting the relief being sought. The State will file its Answer Brief, responding in kind to the arguments made by the Appellant. Finally, the Appellant will have the opportunity to file a Reply Brief, limited in scope to answering the State’s position.

Some District Courts of Appeal will schedule every appeal for Oral Argument. This is an opportunity for the appellate lawyers to address the judges directly who will decide the appeal. An appellate oral argument is a learned art requiring an appellate advocate to think quickly on his feet, to understand the case facts and the controlling law, and importantly, to understand and be able to interpret the subtle language judges use to communicate not only to the lawyers but also to each other.

Effective research and writing are critical. Appellate Judges routinely say that when they review the briefing in an appeal, one of the first items they look at is the reply brief. One reason is that this usually informs the appellate court of the most important issues to be decided.
 

Experienced Appellate Lawyers Are Necessary

Every appeal is complicated and requires an appellate lawyer who understands the nuances of Florida law and both criminal and appellate procedure so he can “spot” issues the appellate court will want to review and decide in your favor. Not every error during a trial is appealable and knowing which are appealable and which are not makes all the difference. Equally important is having an appellate lawyer on your side who has practiced before the judges of the District Courts of Appeal before and understands how the judges review certain issues.

Not every appeal is the same precisely because every case is unique. Sure, the legal standards don’t change very often and some of the controlling case law remains consistent but it is the way the law applies to the unique facts of your case that makes the difference. Don’t wait to talk to a smart, creative appellate lawyer. This can make all the difference.

Pennsylvania Direct Appeals

Pennsylvania has two different intermediate appellate courts: The Commonwealth Court and the Superior Court. In criminal cases, all appeals will be taken to one of the three districts of the Superior Court: the Western District (Pittsburgh), the Middle District (Harrisburg), and the Eastern District (Philadelphia). Each district holds jurisdiction over cases from one of the Courts of Common Pleas throughout the Commonwealth. In Pennsylvania, a defendant has 30 days during which to file a notice of appeal. This is TIME-SENSITIVE and missing this deadline can have disastrous consequences for your rights to appellate review.

 

Notice of Appeal

Once a Notice of Appeal is filed, trial court will issue an order for the Defendant to file with the trial court a Concise Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal. This is the core document in any appeal because it identifies, to the exclusion of all others, the issues the defendant seeks to have reviewed. If it is not in the Concise Statement, the issue is considered waived. In response to the Concise Statement, the trial court will issue an Opinion describing the trial court’s view of each issue. This Opinion is part of the appellate record.
 

What Happens After an Appeal is Filed?

Each side will file a brief in support of its position. This is the “meat” of appellate litigation. The Defendant, now called the Appellant, will file an Initial or Opening Brief. The Appellant will identify the history of the case in the trial court, the relevant facts from the record in the trial court, the issues the Appellant raised in his Concise Statement of Matters Complained Of, and the legal argument in favor of granting the relief being sought. The Commonwealth will file its Answer Brief, responding in kind to the arguments made by the Appellant. In many cases, the Commonwealth will rely upon the trial court’s Opinion as a foundation for its Answer.

Finally, the Appellant will have the opportunity to file a Reply Brief, limited in scope to answering the Commonwealth’s position. Effective research and writing are critical. Appellate Judges routinely say that when they review the briefing in an appeal, one of the first items they look at is the reply brief. One reason is that this usually informs the appellate court of the most important issues to be decided.

Nearly appeal filed in the Commonwealth, if requested, is heard at Oral Argument. This is an opportunity for the appellate lawyers to address the judges directly who will decide the appeal. An appellate oral argument is a learned art requiring an appellate advocate to think quickly on his feet, to understand the case facts and the controlling law, and importantly, to understand and be able to interpret the subtle language judges use to communicate not only to the lawyers but also to each other. Oral Argument in any given case can be either a standard 15 minutes or an expedited five minutes.
 

Experienced Appellate Lawyers Are Necessary

Every appeal is complicated and requires an appellate lawyer who understands the nuances of Pennsylvania law and both criminal and appellate procedure so he can “spot” issues the appellate court will want to review and decide in your favor. Not ever error during a trial is appealable and knowing which are appealable and which are not makes all the difference. Equally important is having an appellate lawyer on your side who has practiced before the judges of the Superior Court before and understands how the judges review certain issues.

Not every appeal is the same precisely because every case is unique. Sure, the legal standards don’t change very often and some of the controlling case law remains consistent but it is the way the law applies to the unique facts of your case that makes the difference. Don’t wait to talk to a smart, creative appellate lawyer. This can make all the difference.