How Are the Albuquerque Appellate Courts Structured and How Do They Work?

How Are the Albuquerque Appellate Courts Structured and How Do They Work?

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Just Appeals Law Offices of Dr. Scott M. Davidson has been practicing appellate law for decades. As Albuquerque’s premier appellate lawyer, Dr. Davidson understands the complexities of appellate procedure and appellate law, not just in New Mexico but also federally.

New Mexico’s Appellate Courts are similar to other Courts of Appeals around the country. In the United States, there are separate State and Federal appellate courts, with differing levels of authority. It is important to understand the structure of appellate courts, appellate procedure, and other administrative functions of both State and Federal appellate courts.

What is an Appellate Court?

An appellate court is a court that has the authority to review decisions made by lower courts, meaning either State or Federal District courts, sometimes referred to as “trial courts”. It is the job of an appellate court to review the procedures and rulings of the lower court to determine whether the rules of criminal or civil procedure were followed and that the law was correctly applied in the lower court.  If either the procedures were not adhered to, or the law was applied incorrectly, the appellate court has the duty to correct that error. In most cases, if an appellate court finds that a reversible error or misapplication of law occurred in the lower court the case will be remanded back to the trial court. If the court finds nothing wrong with the procedures or rulings from the lower court, or if any errors in the lower court were harmless, then it will affirm the decision. State appellate courts or Federal Circuit appellate courts are not the last court with the ability to review a case or decision. One may petition either a State Supreme Court or the Supreme Court of the United States to review an opinion from an appellate court. In addition, the State Supreme Court has the authority to review the decision of the district court, such as in some habeas corpus cases. The State and Federal systems are almost always separated, except that the Supreme Court of the United States may be petitioned to review an opinion from a State Supreme Court, if there is a federal question, such as a constitutional issue. Once a decision is handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States, there is no higher court to review the case, which is why it is often called the court of last resort.

What is the purpose of a Court of Appeals?

The appellate system ensures that law is correctly applied and that the rules of criminal and civil procedure are followed. A wide variety of decisions can be appealed; this means that either party in the case, usually the losing party, can have a judgement reviewed by a court of higher authority. For example, in a criminal case, if someone has been convicted and sentenced, they have the right to appeal their conviction or their sentence.  Although one has the right to file an appeal on their own behalf, appeals are generally filed by a lawyer or team of lawyers. It is very beneficial to hire an experienced appellate lawyer to handle an appeal because appellate issues are almost always complex issues of law that even trial lawyers are often unfamiliar with.

How Does an Appellate Court Work?

Appellate courts do not hear new evidence or do trials. They are restricted to review only that which was presented on the record in the trial court. This is often a point of frustration and confusion for appellants who are unfamiliar with the appellate system. The record on appeal will include recordings or transcripts from hearings or trials that took place in the case, witness testimony, admitted evidence, and legal documents filed in the case, by either party or by the judge. A panel of multiple appellate judges review the record, as well as the briefs filed by both parties and decide whether or not the law was applied correctly and fairly in the case. Sometimes appeals are decided, “on the briefs”, meaning no actual in court proceedings are needed for the judges to rule; in other cases, the appellate court may order oral argument. Oral argument is an opportunity for an appellant’s attorney to advocate for their position in person, in front of the appellate judges.

Appellate Court decisions can be important for many different reasons. Of course, the person who has filed the appeal will have a vested interest in the outcome, but appellate decisions can be consequential for future cases as well. Sometimes, an appellate court will set new legal precedent when it reaches a decision. Precedent can be used by lawyers and judges in future cases with similar facts when deciding cases or advocating for a position.  Because appellate decisions are used as a legal basis for arguments in future cases, they are typically meticulously written, designed to be as clear and thorough as possible.

Understanding the intricacies and processes of the appellate courts in New Mexico can be overwhelming for even the most educated legal minds. Having an Appellate Legal Expert and Lawyer on your side can make all the difference in the world when it comes to winning your appeal.

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