Timeline for an Appeal

There are very strict timelines with appeals. If a notice of appeal is not filed in time, the defendant cannot recover from that missed deadline. In other words, if the deadline is missed, no matter why, then no appeal may be filed.

Civil Appeal Timing

For a civil traffic matter, the defendant has 14 days from the entry of judgment to file a notice of appeal.

Criminal Appeal Timing

For a criminal matter, the defendant has 20 days from the entry of judgment to file a notice of appeal.

There are some events that can extend this timeline, but if you are considering filing an appeal, consult an attorney immediately and do not delay. Definitely do not wait until the last minute.

The different courts in an appeal

An appeal is not a second bite at the apple, so to speak. The scope of an appeal is very narrow. First, we need to take a look at the roles of the courts as it relates to an appeal.

Trial Court.

The trial court is the court where the case was originally heard or tried. It could have been in front of a judge, or a jury. The role of the trial court is to find out the facts. The trial court is often referred to as the “finder of facts”. Based on the facts found by the trial court, the defendant is either found guilty or not guilty (in criminal cases), or responsible or not responsible (in civil cases).

The Appellate Court.

The appellate court is whatever court is processing the appeal. This varies depending on where the case began. For cases originating in courts of limited jurisdiction (misdemeanor criminal cases or civil traffic cases), the appellate court is the superior court in whatever county the trial court is in. For felony cases where the trial court was the superior court, cases actually go to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Reasons for an appeal

There are two major grounds that a person appealing (the appellant) can use to argue the trial court screwed up. These include Abuse of Discretion and Error of Law.

Abuse of Discretion.

Here, the defendant is arguing that the trial court somehow abused its discretion. This is a very challenging reason to appeal. The defendant must show that the judge’s decision was completely unsupported by the evidence at trial. This is very hard. When reviewing the case, the trial court is going to view the evidence in a light most favorable to the trial court. If there is any shred of support for the judge’s decision, the appellate court is not going to overturn the trial court’s decision.

Error of Law.

An error of law is the best reason to file an appeal and has the greatest opportunity for success. When a defendant alleges an error of law, they are saying that although the facts are correct, the judge applied the law incorrectly. An error of law argument is a strictly legal argument.

Situations more likely to win an appeal:

  • The judge misinterpreted the law or applied the wrong legal standard. For instance, in an excessive speed case, if the judge interpreted the law to apply when the alleged speed is 20 mph over the posted limited, but in fact it applies when the alleged speed is more than 20 mph over the posted limit (21 mph or more over).

Situations less likely to win an appeal:

  • I didn’t have all my evidence at trial. If you didn’t bring the evidence you needed to trial, that is on you. The appellate court is not going to give you another shot.
  • I disagree with the facts found by the judge. The vast majority of appeal inquiries we get stem from the defendant disagreeing with the outcome. This is almost always at its essence is a disagreement over the facts of the case and is going to fall into the “abuse of discretion” category. The appellate court is generally not going to overturn the trial court’s finding of facts. The appellate court reasons that the trial court had the benefit of seeing and hearing people testify and was therefore in the best position to assess the credibility of the witnesses. For purposes of an appeal, you will generally need to assume that the facts found by the trial court are the facts you have to work with.
  • I want another trial. There may be other ways to get a new trial, but an appeal is not it.
  • One of my witnesses did not show up. If your witness did not show up, that is also on you. The appellate court does not care why your witness did not appear.
  • I missed the trial date. Here again, this is on the defendant. An appeal will not help with a missed trial date.

Cost of an appeal

Appeals are expensive. It is very likely that an attorney will charge far more for an appeal than for the actual underlying case. Appeals are very technical in nature. Appeals take a lot of work, time and energy. Appeals involve reviewing the entire case record, reviewing the recording of any relevant hearings, transcribing any relevant hearings, doing legal research, drafting the appeal, and sometimes an oral argument.

Before you embark on an appeal, it is important to understand the merits of your argument, as well as the potential cost and benefit that could be involved with your appeal.