For anyone keeping an eye on important Court cases in the media right now, you may be wondering why the legal system was designed in such a way that seemingly anyone can appeal a decision they don’t like.
The most glaring example of someone using the appeals system is former President Donald Trump. His modus operandi has always been to appeal any decision that didn’t result in his favor. A recent example that comes to mind is E. Jean Carroll vs. Donald Trump, in which he is accused of sexual assault in the 1990s; Mr. Trump lost the case, and then endured a further loss when a judge ruled that he defamed her in 2019 after she went public with her sexual assault claims.
Throughout the process, Mr. Trump’s legal team filed appeals: first, in an attempt to overturn the judge’s decision not to dismiss the first of E. Jean Carroll’s suits, and second, to delay the case until it could be decided whether he held absolute presidential immunity. Both appeals were denied, the first being called “frivolous” by the judge, and it was determined that Mr. Trump did not have absolute presidential immunity for calling E. Jean Carroll a liar.
So, it’s understandable that, while observing these infamous trials, that one may start to wonder why the appeals system exists if it can be abused by people who just don’t like losing.
Let’s take a look today at how appeals work.
There are Two Types of Appeals
There are two different kinds of appeals that legal professionals can use in a case:
- Intermediary Appeal — This is an appeal to a higher Court on one specific issue in a case and will normally occur before the final trial.
The advantage of an intermediary appeal is that when a final trial is conducted, everyone knows that all the evidence presented is admissible. The disadvantage is that it can get expensive and will cause substantial delays, and, in many situations, an Appellate Court will respond that they won’t hear the appeal on an intermediary basis.
Judges typically have mixed feelings about intermediary appeals. They understandably don’t like having to go through an entire trial just to have it thrown out because a crucial piece of evidence shouldn’t have been admitted. At the same time, judges don’t want to be hit with 80 appeals (which is what Mr. Trump’s legal team likes to do).
- Appeals after the trial — Most people will wait for a final decision from the judge and then appeal the final decision, arguing that the Court made relevant errors in that decision. If you prevail at trial despite the Court’s erroneous ruling, you save the time and cost associated with an appeal.
Considering Mr. Trump’s intermediary appeal to the gag order in his fraud case, here’s what most people would likely do: object to the gag order, the gag order would enter, and the person would be bound by it. Then, if they lost the trial, that person could appeal the decision, citing the gag order as preventing them from adequately representing themself in the case.
However, Mr. Trump’s use of intermediary appeals also appears to be a stall tactic: the more tied up the Court is in determining appeals, the longer it will take for the trial to go forward, and the more expensive it will become for his opponent. The strategy hopes to force the other side to burn out and quit.
The Appeals System is a Check and Balance
In almost all aspects of our system of government, a checks and balances system is in place to try and ensure that our rights are upheld. Of course, there are many flaws — but at its core, the appeals system exists to create fairness.
If a judge makes an erroneous ruling early in the case, it can be appealed. Sometimes, the appeal will completely change the case, as in a recent DUI case I had. I represented a man who had been pulled over because the officer said he “had a bad feeling.” My client wasn’t doing anything wrong; he didn’t have a tail light out, his plates weren’t out of date, he wasn’t driving erratically, etc.
When the officer pulled him over, the officer smelled alcohol, and asked my client to take a breath test, which he failed. However, “having a bad feeling” is not grounds to pull someone over, and I was able to get the evidence excluded, essentially squashing their case.
Appeals are very useful when they’re used appropriately.
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