What is an Appellant Brief?

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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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An appellant brief is a written argument presented to a higher court by the party who loses in a lower court, known as the appellant. The brief is used to try to persuade the appellate court to reverse or modify the lower court’s ruling or to order a retrial or resentencing. It covers the facts of the case as well as the legal arguments, and a court may not need the appellant to clarify points in oral argument. An appellant brief contains citations and discussions of relevant statutes and case law to support the arguments presented. The appellant can either submit the brief pro se, or an appellate lawyer can write and submit the brief on his or her behalf.

The appellant often has a limited amount of time to appeal a lower court’s decision after a court ruling and a final judgment are entered. The purpose of the appeal is to highlight an error or injustice that the appellant believes was made. Appellant law often requires that the appellant submit a brief as part of the appeals process. The party who won in the lower court also submits a brief, referred to as the appellee brief. The purpose of that brief is to argue that the court ruling should stand and that no error was made by the lower court judge.


The main focus of the appellant brief is to argue points of law. The appeals process is not often used to present new facts or to review new evidence. For example, an appellant in a criminal appeal may not be able to enter an appellant brief with new evidence that proves his innocence. He would have to show that it was an error on the trial court judge’s part to deny the entry of that evidence based on law. The appellate court would have the option of sending the case back for retrial, but it could not examine the evidence to overturn the conviction.

In some cases, the appellant may be able to submit a second brief in response to the appellee’s brief. The purpose is to address the legal matters argued by the appellee because the appellate court may not listen to oral arguments. The court may require oral arguments so that the appellant and the appellee can clarify the points that they made in the briefs. Oral arguments are not often an opportunity for the parties to present new evidence or new arguments not covered in the briefs.


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