What Are Appellate Courts?

Appellate courts are the part of the judicial system that is responsible for hearing and reviewing appeals from legal cases that have already been heard in a trial-level or other lower court. Persons or entities such as corporations having an unsuccessful outcome in a trial-level or other lower court may file an appeal with an appellate court to have the decision reviewed. Appellate courts are present at the state and federal levels. These courts do not include a jury. 

Key Takeaways

  • Appellate courts hear and review appeals from legal cases that have already been heard in a trial-level or other lower court. 
  • Appellate courts are present at the state and federal levels and they do not include a jury. 
  • There are 13 appeals courts on the federal level, with each state having their own appeals court system, some of which include intermediate appellate courts.

How Appellate Courts Work

Appellate courts exist as part of the judicial system to provide those who have judgments made against them an opportunity to have their case reviewed. A corporation with an unfavorable judgment against it will likely see a drop in share price, but an appeal could overturn this previous ruling. If an appeal is successful, the stock price usually jumps.

Appellate courts review the decisions of lower courts to determine if the court applied the law correctly. 

Courts at the appellate level review the findings and evidence from the lower court and determine if there is sufficient evidence to support the determination made by the lower court. Also, the appellate court will determine if the trial or lower court correctly applied the law. The highest form of an appellate court in the U.S. is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears only appeals of major importance and consequence.

Appellate Courts vs. Supreme Courts

Supreme courts have more authority than appellate courts. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is the highest authority there is. Supreme courts review decisions made by appeals courts. Overall, there are 13 appellate courts on the federal level⁠—12 district appellate courts and an appeals court for the Federal Circuit. 

Many states have intermediate appellate courts, which serve as appeals courts meant to cut down on the workload for the state Supreme Court. Forty-one of the 50 states have at least one intermediate appellate court.