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Who Decides Cases Heard By Appellate Courts?

By The Law Office of Brett V. Beaubien

June 29, 2020

Who Decides Cases Heard By Appellate Courts?

The United States court system is divided into three levels: district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. Appellate courts were born out of a need to reduce the caseload on the Supreme Court, so they became an intermediary between the lower courts and the highest court in the land. Today, as then, the Supreme Court hears only a small fraction of cases that are filed. Appellate courts have a lot of power because they are the final arbiter on most state and federal cases. 

The appellate courts, also known as circuit courts, are where cases that have already been heard in the district courts, also known as trial courts, are reviewed. An appellant is the party who lost their case in court and filed the notice of appeal. The appellee is the person party against whom the appeal is filed. 

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your trial, then you have a certain amount of time afterward in which you were able to file a notice of appeal. Once you file a notice of appeal, you officially begin the process. With your filing, you must include the fees as well as a copy of the agency’s final order. This is also the time when you file opening motions, such as asking for an extension to submit legal documents. An extension may be granted if one is requested on time. Otherwise, the court may dismiss the case.


Your appeals attorney will submit an Opening Brief that will be replied to by the opposing counsel’s Answering Brief. Your attorney will respond with a rebuttal called a Reply Brief. The Opening Brief contains a written statement of all the facts related to your case, what decision you are petitioning the court to change, and what legal reasons support your petition. 

Panel of 3 Judges

Your case will be presented to a panel of three judges who will read your appeal and the other briefs provided by the opposing counsel. Unlike in district courts, judges will often make decisions on appeals without hearing arguments in circuit courts. Instead, they rely on the information in the briefs and in the court records to come to a decision. However, if the case is particularly legally interesting that the judges feel should be examined more closely, or there has been contention among other judges on how to rule in similar cases, then they may decide to hear an in-person argument. However, In most cases, this is where a case ends. A decision is made by the three circuit court judges, who then notify the attorney of the decision. You may not ever walk into a courtroom if you have filed an appeal.

Oral argument

Your attorney will only have a few minutes to present the most important points from the brief. Appeals attorneys do not merely repeat what was already in the brief, and are questioned relentlessly. This is why it’s vital to hire a sharp and experienced appeals attorney to be your advocate in court.

Categories: Appellate Courts

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