What is an appeal?

Simply put, an appeal is a request to the court of appeals to review a trial court’s decision for legal error. An appeal is not a request to the court of appeals to re-examine the evidence and make a new ruling. See Tucson Sch. Dist. No. 1 of Pima County v. Soder, 7 Ariz. App. 244, 246 (1968) (“It is the function of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses, and [the Court of Appeals] is bound by that determination.”); Laubner v. Altick, 9 Ariz.App. 510, 511 (1969) (finding that it is well-settled law that appellate courts will not substitute their opinions on a case for that of the trial courts). So, the obvious next question is: what is a legal error?

A legal error is a mistake in the application or interpretation of the law. For example, if a trial court uses the wrong evidentiary standard, misapplies a statute, misinterprets a rule, or deprives a party of a constitutional right, the trial court likely committed a legal error. If, on the other hand, the trial court didn’t believe a witness’s testimony or didn’t place “enough” importance on a piece of evidence, this is not a legal error. Rather, this is a request for the appellate court to re-hear the case and, as noted above, it will typically not do so.

An appeal is also what I like to call a “closed universe” hearing. The appellate court is only allowed to analyze the evidence and arguments raised at the trial court.  See Evans Withycombe, Inc. v. W. Innovations, Inc., 215 Ariz. 237, 240, ¶ 15 (App. 2006) (finding that appellate court will not review issues raised for the first time on appeal because it deprives the other party of the opportunity to respond).  This means that you cannot bring up new evidence on appeal (think, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”). This is the opposite of a regular trial where you can basically use any relevant evidence you want.

This is obviously a very simplistic view of an appeal. But, I hope it gives some kind of basic explanation of what an appeal and what the court of appeals does. If you believe you or someone you know might have an appealable issues, contact me for a consultation.


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