An appeal is the act or fact of challenging a judicially cognizable and
binding decision to a higher judicial authority. Most commonly, this means
formally filing a notice of appeal with a lower court, indicating one's
intention to take the matter to the next higher court with jurisdiction over
the matter, and then actually filing the appeal with the higher court.
Increasingly in the United States, binding decisions can be issued in civil
matters by arbitrators, referees, masters, commissioners and administrative
law judges in hearings and proceedings generally classed as alternative
dispute resolution. If unchallenged, these decisions have the power to
settle more minor legal disputes once and for all. If one is dissatisfied
with the finding of such a tribunal, one generally has the power to appeal.
In some cases, the appellate step is not an appeal as such, but is known as
a trial de novo. What the latter term means is that all issues and evidence
may be developed newly, as though never heard before, and one is not
restricted to the evidence heard in the lower proceeding. Sometimes,
however, the decision of the lower proceeding is itself admissible as
evidence, thus helping to curb frivolous appeals.
In an appeal from a decision in a judicial proceeding, both appellant and
respondent are bound to base their arguments wholly on the proceedings and
body of evidence as they were presented in the lower proceeding. Each seeks
to prove to the higher court that the result they desired was the just
result. Precedent and case law figure prominently in the arguments. In order
for the appeal to succeed, the appellant must prove that the lower court
committed reversible error that is, an impermissible action by the court
acted to cause a result that was unjust, and which would not have resulted
had the court acted properly. Some examples of reversible error would be
permitting seriously improper argument by an attorney, admitting or
excluding evidence improperly, acting outside the court's jurisdiction,
injecting bias into the proceeding or appearing to do so, juror misconduct,
etc. The failure to formally object at the time, to what one views as
improper action in the lower court, may result in the dismissal of an appeal
on the grounds that one did not "preserve the issue for appeal" by objecting.
In some rare cases, an appellant may successfully argue that the law under
which the lower decision was rendered was unconstitutional or otherwise
invalid, or may convince the higher court to order a new trial on the basis
that evidence earlier sought was concealed or only recently discovered. In
the case of new evidence, there must be a high probability that its presence
or absence would have made a material difference in the trial. Another issue
suitable for appeal in criminal cases is adequacy of counsel. If one faces
severe penalty and can prove that he did not get a fair hearing because of
incompetency on the part of his lawyer, a new trial may be forthcoming.