An appellant is someone who applies to a higher court to ask that court to review a decision that is made by a lower court. An appellant must show that he has sufficient grounds for an appeal, which are usually defined by the statute, in order to challenge a judgment.

A plaintiff or a defendant in a lower court action can go on to become an appellant. For example, an appellant’s status in the lower court action does not matter, only his desire to have the decision reviewed by the appellate court. To explore this concept, consider the following appellant definition.

Definition of Appellant


  1. Someone who appeals to a higher court to review a decision that was made by a lower court.


1400-1450       Old French apelant

What is an Appellant

An appellant is a person who appeals to a higher court to review a decision that was made by a lower court. This action is taken when the appellant is not happy with the decision, and believes the court made a mistake. The appellant has either lost the case at the lower court level, or he was victorious but was not entirely satisfied with the lower court’s decision. As such, the appellant believes the trial court erred in its decision and decides to take that decision to task. For example, the appellant may have been awarded a lower damages amount than he was initially seeking and appeals to the higher court, believing that he is entitled to more.

However, just because an appellant is not happy with a decision does not automatically give him legitimate grounds for an appeal. Examples of legitimate legal grounds for an appeal include:

  • JurisdictionThe trial court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case and, as such, was not empowered by law to issue a decision on the matter.
  • Jury Instructions – The judge incorrectly instructed the jury on how to proceed insofar as how the law should be applied to that particular case.
  • Evidentiary Error – The trial court incorrectly handled evidence in the case, whether by omitting evidence that should have been left in or keeping evidence that should have been left out.

What is an Appellee

An appellee is someone who has won at trial, but whose victory is being challenged by the loser before a higher court. Once the appellant has filed for an appeal, the appellee must respond in kind with his own legal brief. While the appellant makes an argument to have the case reviewed, and the decision reversed or amended, the appellee counters with an argument as to why the decision should be affirmed by the higher court.

An appellant must serve an appellee with a Notice of Appeal, which lets the appellee know that an appeal has been filed. Once the appellee has been notified that the appeal is pending, he must file a written response with the court within a certain limited time. If he fails to file in a timely manner, then he may end up forfeiting his rights once the court hears the appeal.

What is an Appeal

An appeal is a request that is made by an appellant to have a higher court review a lower court’s decision. For example, an appellant will appeal his case when he either loses or is unhappy with a decision that was rendered in his favor. An appeal is reviewed and decided by an appellate judge, or a panel of judges, rather than a jury comprised of the appellant’s peers.

In a criminal case, the defendant can appeal the conviction itself, or just the sentencing portion of the decision. For instance, a defendant may be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter, as opposed to the more severe charge of murder. However, his sentence may be for a term that exceeds the limit set by the law. In this case, the defendant will only appeal the sentencing portion of the decision.

The appeals court then reviews the record that was made by the trial court, including only the facts that were presented by both sides at trial, which are relevant to the appealed issue at hand. At this point, nothing new can be added to the record in terms of facts or evidence, except under very extraordinary circumstances – and then only by leave of the court. This means that if either party did not present evidence that could have helped or hurt the case, they are out of luck to present anything new after the fact. It is up to the appeals court to determine whether the trial court proceeded according to law, and ruled correctly based on those constraints.

Upon reviewing the case, an appellate court can generally take one of three actions:

  1. Affirm in whole – The court can affirm the trial court’s decision, which means that the decision stands as it is.
  2. Affirm in part – The court can affirm part of the trial court’s decision, and deny or reverse part of the decision. In this case, a new decision would be issued.
  3. Reversal – The court can reverse all or part of the trial court’s decision. From here, the appellate court can choose to remand the case back to the trial court for a new ruling, hearing, or trial.

However, if the appellate court finds the lower court’s decision to have been made in error, the errors must be significant for the appellate court to render a reversal. Minor errors are not enough to reverse a lower court’s decision. Once a case has been remanded and anew trial ordered, , only then are both sides permitted a second chance to present new facts and evidence that they may have regretted not bringing to the first trial.

Legal briefs from both parties are filed with the appellate court, telling the court why they feel the trial court did or did not err in reaching the conclusion that it did. The court then reads the briefs and makes a decision, taking into account the decision the trial court reached as well. The decision the appellate court makes is whether or not to affirm or reverse the trial court’s decision based on what was written in the briefs.

In certain cases, an appellant has to ask the higher court’s permission to hear the case. This is called the “leave to appeal” process. Even if the court grants such a request, the court will not re-hear the entire case or change a decision just because it seems unfair. An appellate court will also not change a decision just because the appellate court disagrees with it. The only way a decision will be changed is if it was made incorrectly due to a factual or legal error. If neither of these errors were made, then the decision stands.

Supreme Court Appeals

Should the case escalate to the Supreme Court level, then a similar situation will occur wherein a panel of judges will review the case. However, there are two differences here. The first is that the Supreme Court only decides whether there was a violation of someone’s constitutional rights, or if there is a question of law that was not properly decided by a lower court. This is why the Supreme Court only agrees to hear a small fraction of the cases that request a writ of certiorari.

The second difference is that those justices who disagree with the majority rule provide what are called “dissenting opinions.” These written opinions are incorporated at the end of the majority decision, providing further explanation that clarifies those justices’ reasons for disagreeing with the majority.

Appellant Example Involving Habeas Corpus

A writ of habeas corpus is an order directing an inmate be brought to the court so that the court can decide whether that inmate was imprisoned lawfully. If not, then the inmate will be released from custody. The phrase “writ of habeas corpus” is literally translated as “produce the body.” Usually, a writ of habeas corpus is filed by a prisoner, though they can also be filed by those who are imprisoned as a result of being held in contempt of court. Those who are threatened with imprisonment can also file a writ of habeas corpus.

The writ of habeas corpus is also referred to as “the Great Writ.” This is because the U.S. differs from other countries in that the writ of habeas corpus works like a check on the government, and gives prisoners an opportunity to protest their imprisonment. Other countries can throw people in jail and leave them there indefinitely without filing charges against them or conducting a hearing. It is therefore understandable that the writ of habeas corpus is considered a hallmark of the American justice system.

Habeas corpus petitions can be brought in state or federal court. However, before filing one in federal court, all state court options must have been exhausted. Of course, like any other writ, courts do not grant writs of habeas corpus often. There must be clear and convincing evidence that someone was wrongly imprisoned before a court will grant a writ of habeas corpus.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Remand – To send a case back down to the lower court from which it was appealed, with instructions to the trial court insofar as what is to be done going forward.