The state’s constitution allows litigants in criminal and civil cases the right to appeal at least once. Rather than retry the case already heard in the lower court, the party who files the appeal (the appellant) must argue that the trial court made a legal error that affected their case’s outcome and prepares a brief of legal arguments that the mistake signals that the case should be overturned. The opposing party (the appellee) in the case heard in court can file a brief that responds to the appellant’s arguments. Both sides cite their arguments and decisions from previous cases that supported a ruling in their favor.
Reviewing the legal process
The appellate court does not hear new evidence or testimony. Instead, it specifically reviews the trial’s certified records. Attorneys for each side appear in person before the judges about 20% of the time, and they can make oral arguments if they appear. There are three possible outcomes from reviewing the case:
- Affirm: This upholds the decision made by the lower court.
- Remand: This means that the judges sent the case back to the lower court, which should use the appellate rulings as a guide.
- Vacate: This means the judges found an error in the trial and overturned the decision.
The decision made by the Court of Appeals can then be reviewed by the Kentucky Supreme Court. If the state high court reviews the case, the party may try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It should also be noted that cases heard at the Circuit Court level that result in a death sentence or more than 20 years imprisonment are appealed directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
A three-judge panel reviews criminal cases from the circuit courts and one of the state’s 14 appellate judges hears the other cases.
A different kind of case
Attorneys who handle litigation appear before judges all the time. Because of the different format, it may be necessary to bring an attorney who can provide a fresh perspective to the Appellate Court’s review of the case.