Appellate Courts

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An essential part of the judicial system that provide an opportunity for review and correction of legal errors made by lower courts.

Appellate courts are a crucial component of the legal system that gives people the chance to evaluate and correct legal mistakes that lower courts committed. Depending on the jurisdiction, appellate courts can be located at both the state and federal levels and have various roles and organizational setups.

There are 13 appellate courts at the federal level: 12 circuit courts of appeals and one court of appeals for the federal circuit. District court appeals from inside their respective circuits are heard by the geographically separated circuit courts of appeals. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has countrywide jurisdiction and hears appeals from specialist courts like the Patent and Trademark Office, the Court of Federal Claims, and the Court of International Trade.

The judgments of lower courts are examined by the federal appellate courts for errors of law rather than mistakes of fact. They analyze the trial court's record and the parties' legal arguments rather than retrying cases or hearing fresh evidence. The federal appellate courts typically rule on cases in panels of three judges, but they occasionally sit en banc, meaning that all the judges in a circuit hear the case at once. Until the U.S. Supreme Court or an en banc judgment of the same circuit overrules a federal appellate court's ruling, it is binding on the lower courts within its circuit.

At the state level, appellate courts vary in number, name, and organization. Some states have only one level of appellate courts, usually called the Supreme Court or the Court of Last Resort. Other states have two levels of appellate courts: an intermediate court of appeals and a supreme court. The Intermediate Court of Appeals may have different names, such as the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, or the Court of Civil Appeals.

Depending on the state's laws and regulations, the state appellate courts hear appeals from trial courts within respective states and may consider either factual or legal concerns. Aside from using panels of judges, a single judge, or a rotating panel of judges, the state appellate courts may also use other methods for reaching decisions. Until they are overruled by a higher state court or by the U.S. Supreme Court, the decisions of the state appellate courts are binding on the lower courts within their states.

The reliability, correctness, and consistency of the legal system are significantly influenced by appellate courts. They offer direction and interpretation of the law to litigants, the public, and lower courts. They also act as a safeguard against the authority and judgment of trial judges and jurors.