How do federal court of appeals work?

A series of courts at the federal level hear appeals of certain types of cases and decisions. A federal appellate court can hear appeals regarding decisions made by various federal agencies. They will also hear appeals of decisions made by federal courts at the district level. The courts are known as the federal circuit courts or the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

The country is divided into 13 overall circuits. Each circuit has a federal appeals court and multiple district courts under that court. Above the federal courts is the Supreme Court. According to CivilRights.org, the Supreme Court doesn't even hear 100 cases annually, but the courts directly under the highest court adjudicate tens of thousands of matters annually.

At the federal appeals level, a case is generally heard by three judges who make up a panel. A chief judge oversees the process, and he or she assigns judges to cases. Judges are assigned based on a variety of factors, including workload.

Appeals courts don't see presentation of evidence or hear from witnesses, as these functions should have been performed before the lower court made a decision. Attorneys on each side of the appeal can present written arguments to the appeals court, and the judges also review documents related to the trial. In some cases, the appeals court might allow oral arguments from the lawyers involved.

The briefs related to an appeals case can be over a hundred pages in length and are often filled with technical arguments about how a trial or court decision proceeded. Lawyers will attempt to show that a trial court made a mistake or did not make a mistake; the federal appeals judges then enter a decision -- known as an opinion -- on the matter.

The appeals process can be complex, and positive outcomes usually require in depth legal acumen. Working with a professional to appeal your civil or federal case helps increase the chances of a positive outcome.

Source: CivilRights.org, "U.S. Courts of Appeals (Circuit Courts)," accessed Nov. 27, 2015

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