Although the activities of trial courts in Florida tend to be the most visible, there are higher courts that may review a case and make important decisions that affect its participants. Following is a discussion of what you need to know about Florida’s appellate process.
An appeal is a review of the decisions made by a lower court in order to discover whether a harmful legal error was made. Though an error may be discovered, the appellate court is not likely to act on it unless it finds that the error affected the case’s outcome.
Appeals are only made to review errors in decisions about the law. The facts of the case are not under review in the appellate process, as they are determined at the trial court. Similarly, the appellate body does not act as a new jury.
After a conviction, a defendant may appeal the decision to the relevant district court of appeals in Florida. In so doing, the defendant becomes the appellant. The state responds to the appellant by urging the court to uphold the lower court’s ruling, thereby becoming the appellee. Currently Florida’s cases are divided into five district courts of appeal, with plans in the works to add a sixth circuit court of appeals as well as more judges to hear cases.
Criminal cases may be appealed directly to the District Court of Appeal if the defendant pled not guilty. However, if the defendant pled guilty or nolo contendere (no contest), the grounds upon which he or she may make an appeal are quite small.
Defendants may not appeal pre-trial orders, but the state may appeal orders to suppress evidence or dismissal of charges. The state may also appeal orders granting a new trial or an acquittal after a guilty verdict. The state may also cross-appeal certain issues if the defendant files an appeal.
District courts may also review extraordinary writs that ask it to determine certain special issues, including habeas corpus, writ of certiorari, writ of mandamus, and writ of prohibition, but only in extraordinary circumstances. These appeals, though narrow, may be heard both during trial and after a verdict has been handed down.
Generally an appeal is begun by filing a Notice of Appeal with the court clerk of the lower court. The notice must be made in a timely manner, which means it must generally be done within 30 days of the lower court’s verdict. Once the notice is filed, it is then forwarded on by the lower court’s clerk to the relevant district court.
Filings are generally required to be done via the court’s online filing portal, and the fee for submitting a filing is $400 – a $100 fee to the court clerk and a $300 fee to the court of appeals. There are other fees assessed by the lower court for preparing the trial record, but those fees may be waived in the case of an indigent defendant. Fees may be paid online via e-check or via check or money order delivered by hand or postal mail.