One of the remarkable aspects of the system of justice in this country is that almost every initial
decision rendered by a judicial officer is subject to review by other judicial officers at the request
of one or both parties. As a rule, a defendant in a criminal case and either party in a civil case
has an automatic right of appeal from a judgment of a the trial court, whether state or federal.
Appeals are strictly governed by highly intricate rules of the court having jurisdiction over the
appeal. These rules state exactly what information must be included in appellate briefs, how that
information must be organized, and even the color to be used for the covers of briefs and related
documents filed with the court. Appeals from United States district courts are taken to the circuit
court of appeals where the district court is located. Hence appeals from the United States District
Court for the District of Columbia go to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia while appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland go to
the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Likewise, decisions by the Superior
Court of the District of Columbia are appealable to the District of Columbia Court of Appeal.
Appeals in the State of Maryland are somewhat more complicated. First, many decisions by the
District Court of Maryland may ordinarily be appealed to the circuit court for the county where
the district court trial took place. Thus criminal defendants who had an original right to a jury
trial are entitled to a de novo (new) trial in the circuit court. In matters pending before the Family
Division of a county circuit court, either party may challenge the recommendations of a Master of
the Family Division to a judge of the circuit court by the filing of timely exceptions. In addition
to these circuit court appeals, a litigant normally also will have an automatic right to appeal
judgments rendered by a circuit court to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and, by a writ of
certiorari–that is, with the permission of the Court–to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
With some exceptions such as appeals of criminal cases from the District Court of Maryland, all
appeals are “on the record.” What that means is that the higher court does not engage in
independent fact-finding, but must base its decision upon the evidence introduced below and the
trial court’s rulings on any questions put before it. As noted above, appellate practice is highly
technical, which is why many attorneys choose to leave such practice to others.