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What Is an Appellate Jurisdiction?

The United States Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over federal circuit courts.
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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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Appellate jurisdiction refers to the power of a higher court to review a lower court’s decision in a case. Generally, an appeals court does not re-evaluate issues of fact. Rather, most appellate courts simply review the lower court’s decision to determine whether the lower court made any errors in applying the law. Usually, courts of appellate jurisdiction have the power to modify - or even reverse - a lower court’s decision in a particular case. Depending on the jurisdiction in which they are located, courts of appellate jurisdiction may be called courts of appeal, superior courts, appellate courts, or supreme courts.

Original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction are two different concepts. By and large, original jurisdiction is a term that refers to the power of a lower court, such as a trial court or a magistrate's court, to hear a case in the first place. In general, the lower court must render a decision in a case before the case can be heard by a court of appellate jurisdiction.

The appellate process typically begins after a lower court formally issues a decision in a case. To start the process, one of the parties usually submits an appeal for review by a court of appellate jurisdiction. The submitting party is frequently referred to as the appellant while the other party is often called the appellee or respondent.

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On appeal, the appellant usually argues that the lower court erred in applying the law or in conducting procedural aspects of the trial. For example, the appellant may claim that the lower court incorrectly instructed the jury on how to apply the law and that this materially impacted the outcome of the case. On the other hand, the appellee typically claims that the lower court did not commit an error or that the error did not materially affect the case’s outcome.

Most appellate courts do not allow parties to re-try a case. As a result, courts of appellate jurisdiction generally do not perform tasks like listening to witness testimony or evaluating evidence. In some jurisdictions, however, certain cases may be appealed for re-trial. For example, in England and Wales, re-trial is sometimes allowed in an appeal from a magistrate’s court to the Crown Court.

A hierarchy of courts ordinarily exists with appellate court jurisdiction. For example, in the United States federal system, circuit courts generally have appellate jurisdiction over district courts, and the United States Supreme Court usually has jurisdiction over the circuit courts. Typically, a case must first be submitted to a district court before it can be reviewed by a circuit court. In turn, the Supreme Court customarily reviews appeals from a circuit court and not from a district court.

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Post 2

It is true that an appellate court will not retry a case. However, one can remand a case back to the lower court from which it came for a new trial. This remedy is rare. Heck, winning on appeal is quite rare if the case was originally heard by a competent judge. And even incompetent judges tend to get competent in a hurry -- they don't want to see a lot of their cases get overturned on appeal as that looks horrible come election time.

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