As we discussed last week, Florida’s appellate process is not nearly as visible to the general public as the trial courts are, but they are no less important. Here’s what you need to know about the appellate process in the state of Florida.
Once the appellant has filed a notice of appeal with the trial court, the trial court will assemble the trial court record for the appellant. The record are papers and documents filed with the trial court as well as the transcript of the trial. The appellant has ten days after filing notice of appeal to request or exclude specific items from the clerk of the trial court. The form of the request is set forth by statute, as well as what will automatically be made part of the record sent to the appellant.
Within ten days of filing the Notice of Appeal, the appellant must also arrange for preparing and filing any and all transcripts made during the course of the trial. This will be paid for by the appellant except in the case of a direct appeal of a criminal conviction of an indigent defendant.
In addition to records and transcripts of the previous trial, the appellant’s attorneys will prepare briefs for the appellate proceedings. The briefs outline the legal arguments of each side, specifying why the trial court was in error or, in the case of the appellees, why the trial court’s rulings in question were correct. These reasons are supported by reference to the facts established at trial and by citing to previous decisions that support the argument the brief writer is trying to make.
Appellate briefs can run for dozens of pages depending upon the severity and complexity of the original trial and the arguments the parties are attempting to make.
Parties may also appear before the appellate court to make comments about their arguments as well. A separate filing to request oral arguments before the court must be made, and Florida law requires it be made within ten days after the final brief is due to be served.
Once the appellate court is in possession of all the filings, has heard all the oral arguments, and has done its own independent legal research, the court will meet to “conference” the case. At conference, the judges will debate the case and decide upon the issues raised by the appealing parties.
After the appellate court has come to an agreement, the parties will receive written notice informing them of it. If the appellate court agrees with the trial court, the notice may only specify that. However, if the appellate court disagrees with the trial court, the appellate court will publish a written opinion specifying the reasons it came to that conclusion. Within the opinion will be directions to the trial court regarding what it must now do with the case.
The losing party at the appellate level may motion for rehearing or clarification within 15 days of the order’s date asking for a rehearing. Though such motions are entirely legal, they are rarely granted by the appellate court.
At the end of the appellate process, the appeals court will issue a mandate to the trial court to notice that court that the case is now back in its hands.