How Does an Appeal Work in California?

The Courts of Appeal are California’s intermediate courts of review. People who are not satisfied with a Trial Court decision can appeal their case in an Appellate Court. When a party to a prior case “appeals,” that party is asking a higher-level court to change what the Trial Court decided.

The role of the Courts of Appeal is not to give new trials, but to review the Superior Court record (court files and transcripts) to decide if legal errors were made. To do this, the Court of Appeals may hear arguments from each side. Each side gets a chance to make a presentation and to answer the judges’ questions. The oral arguments are open to the public, but there are no juries or witnesses in an appeal. The Courts of Appeal cannot review death penalty cases.

In each Court of Appeal, a panel of three judges, called “justices,” decides appeals from Superior Courts. The Courts of Appeal can agree with the decision of the Trial Court, agree in part and disagree in part, or disagree and reverse the Trial judge’s decision. The Courts’ decisions are called opinions. The opinions are public and are posted on the Supreme Court’s website.

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