Stage 1: Notice of Appeal
This is the initial document that voices your desire to file an appeal. This document will need to be completed by the appellant or a legal representative. The guidelines and deadlines for filing a notice of appeal vary by jurisdiction and can be very strict. If you are appealing a California Superior Court decision, you must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 to 60 days following the court’s judgement. Failure to comply may jeopardize your case.
Stage 2: Transcript Preparation
After the Notice of Appeal is filed, the California Superior Court will prepare official transcripts that document all the evidence and testimony presented during your trial. You and your appeal lawyer will review these materials to evaluate if the original case progressed appropriately, and if the decisions were legally sound or based on some defect. It is critical to work with an experienced appeal lawyer, who knows what to look for and how court procedure should have been applied.
Stage 3: Opening & Respondent’s Briefs
This is where you present a formal argument as to why you are entitled to an appeal. This will likely include an analysis of the lower court’s ruling, where a fault occurred, and the legal justification that supports your case. The prosecution or respondent in a criminal appeal will also be given the chance to respond. This could involve refuting that an error occurred, or asserting that if a mistake did happen, it did not influence the original decision.
Stage 4: Replying to the Brief
Unlike your initial court case, the burden of proof in an appeal shifts to the defendant. However, you and your appeal lawyer will be given another opportunity to rebut the prosecutor’s reply. While you cannot present new evidence, you can point out inaccuracies in what was brought up in defense of the lower court’s decision. This is a hyper-technical process, best handled by a skilled and articulate lawyer.
Stage 5: Oral Arguments & Petition for Rehearing
While appellate briefs are written and presented on your behalf, appeals may also involve oral arguments. These proceedings should highlight the facts of the case, explain the significance of the issues, and provide clarity if questions arise. At this point, it is essential to work with a lawyer who has an extensive background in making appellant arguments. Additionally, if the higher court makes an unfavorable determination, you have the option to file a Petition for Rehearing, but this is not something an everyday trial attorney will have a lot of experience with, and it must be done quickly.
Stage 6: Petition for Review
Aside from pursuing a rehearing, when a decision is made by the Court of Appeals, you still have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court. A Petition for Review is the first step in the process, and it is basically a request for the Supreme Court to select your case for consideration. If your petition is granted, the next step will be a separate “Brief on the Merits” in which you explain how and why the Court of Appeals’s disposition was incorrect or should be upheld.
How a Writ of Habeas Corpus Works
While a direct appeal challenges a court decision, a writ is a petition to enforce fundamental and statutory rights. The most common writ in criminal and immigration cases is a writ of habeas corpus, which determines if an imprisonment or detention is lawful. A writ of habeas corpus is meant to cut through the many barriers that may keep a person unjustly imprisoned or detained; however, it has limitations and complexities, best addressed by an experienced appeals lawyer.
Other Types of Writs
Writs are powerful legal remedies and can force courts and public officials to act in various ways, including facilitating an immediate release from custody, ordering new trials and court proceedings, or correcting fundamental errors not properly recorded.
Common Writs are:
- Writs of Habeas Corpus
- Writ of Mandamus
- Writ of Prohibition
- Writ of Certiorari
- Writ of Quo Warrant
- Writ of Error Coram Nobis
Important Writ Deadlines
Time limits for filing writs depend on whether the writ is considered statutory or a matter of common law.
Statutory writs have short deadlines and challenge rulings in accordance with specific statues. Examples include writs to disqualify a judge or prosecutor, regarding summary judgments and adjudications, or criminal dismissals. The specific statue typically defines the deadline, and failure to file timely may result in the court denying the petition, and possibly losing the right to have the issue reviewed.
Common law writs are issued when the courts believe that typical remedies have failed. Although no absolute deadline exists, the general rule is to file no later than 60 days after giving notice of the challenged order. If an unreasonable delay occurred, your writ can be dismissed.
The Writ Process
Writs in California usually follow a multi-step process:
Step 1: Initial Writ Petition
– This is a request for a court to review an issue. In a habeas corpus petition, an inmate may ask the court to reconsider their sentence.
Step 2: Court Evaluation of the Petition
– This is where the court considers the petitioner’s argument. In a habeas corpus matter, the court will evaluate if the sentence was fair and legally sound.
Step 3: Court’s “Order to Show Cause”
– This is a formal request for one or more parties to justify, explain, or prove something to the court as a matter of law.
Step 4: Government’s Opposition & Petitioner’s Traverse
– At this stage, both sides will present written replies. First, the government will defend the original decision and the petitioner can counter their claims.
Step 5: Writ Hearing
– The court will often hear oral arguments, where the government and petitioner can present evidence and argue the merits of the issues.
Step 6: Judge’s Decision
– Depending on the evidence and the legal arguments presented, a judge will make a determination, which may grant relief through an official writ.