The Washington DC Appeals Process Overview

The District of Colombia contains a lot of courts and courthouses within its borders. Among these numerous courts are a series of important appellate courts, and each appeals court has its own role. If a case or matter was initially heard in the District of Columbia Superior Court (generally a trial court), the case can be appealed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (DC’s highest court). If a case or matter was initially heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the case can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  If a case or matter was has been ruled upon by either the DC Court of Appeals or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, a party’s attorneys can petition for the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court which is located in Washington, DC. In fact, any case which was ruled upon by any state’s highest court or any of the U.S. Courts of Appeals can (if accepted) be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The DC Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit , and the U.S. Supreme Court will not afford you a new trial. Rather, each of these appellate courts will review what transpired in the trial court (or prior appellate court) and determine whether proper procedures were followed and the law was applied correctly. The DC Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit , and the U.S. Supreme Court do not defer to the trial or lower court findings regarding factual issues. The courts only examine how the law was applied during the trial.

To initiate an appeal, the party appealing a decision in the District of Columbia will be required file a notice of appeal in the trial court (or the appellate court) that the party is appealing from. The party will also generally be required to designate an appellate record consisting of materials from the trial court which the appellant wishes to present to the appellate court.

Each DC appeals case in the DC Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit , and the U.S. Supreme Court generally involve multiple legal briefs, which must contain citations to cases and statutory or other legal authorities. The DC appeals briefs must also contain proper citations to the designated appellate record. Generally, the party initiating the appeal will file an opening (or appellant’s) brief with the court. This initial DC appeals brief is should explain the factual and procedural history of the case, describe how the trial or lower court erred, and explain why the appellate court should reverse the ruling. The appellee (person who generally was victorious in the lower court) then generally will file a responsive (or appellee’s) brief with the appellate court. This responsive brief will generally explain how the trial court was correct and why the lower court’s ruling should not be reversed. Usually, the appellant will also be provided with the opportunity to file a reply brief. This appellant’s reply generally is required to solely address arguments made in the responsive brief.

Typically, after the DC appeals briefs are filed in the DC Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit , and the U.S. Supreme Court, a panel of the appellate judges will hear oral argument from each party to the appeal. However, the DC appellate courts can sometimes decide a case based solely on the briefs, without allowing the parties to provide the appeals court with oral argument.

Finally, the panel of judges from the DC Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit , and the U.S. Supreme Court will generally issue a written opinion describing their decision and explaining the reasoning behind it. At the appellate court’s discretion, the DC court’s opinion may be published in the official reports and become binding authority over future cases. The timing of the appeals court’s written opinion is usually a period of several months.

Longman & Van Grack’s DC appeals attorneys can work exclusively on a DC appeal or work on a DC appeals case with a client’s trial counsel. Specifically, our District of Columbia appeals lawyers will review the DC appellate court’s record, conduct detailed research all of the relevant legal issues on appeal, draft all necessary appeals briefs to be submitted to the DC appeals court, and present the appellate case to the appeals court court during oral argument. Longman & Van Grack’s DC appellate attorneys work closely with almost all of the other lawyers in the litigation group to ensure that all legal issues are addressed on appeal. If you would like to discuss our assistance with a District of Columbia appeal, call Longman & Van Grack’s appellate attorneys attorneys today at (301) 291-5027 to schedule a consultation in our District of Columbia appeals office (on K Street, NW, Washington, DC) or at our Maryland appeals office (in Bethesda, Maryland).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jason Silverton

    Can any case be appealed?

    1. Longman Van Grack

      Thanks for your question! Most cases can be appealed, but not every one. Feel free to contact one of our appellate attorneys if you’d like to see if a specific case is appealable.

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