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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.


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