Differences Between Trials and Appeals: The Record

People tend to be familiar with how a court trial works. Anyone who watches TV has seen shows like Law and Order, so they are vaguely familiar with how things work in court. However, these shows tend to focus on criminal trials, instead of federal appeals. This is because the trial process simply makes for better television. There are jurors, opening and closing arguments, and witnesses giving testimony, complete with cross-examination. Trials come with a lot of drama, in and of themselves.

During an appeal, though, there is none of this inherent drama. Instead, appellate courts merely review the record of the trial court and the written briefs made by the attorneys. Not only is there no witness testimony or jury to weigh the decision, in a majority of the cases the attorneys do not even need to appear in court for the appeal.

Because appeals are radically different from what people tend to expect in a trial, it can be helpful to understand how, exactly, the appellate process is different. In essence, the main difference between the two is the record of the trial.

Trials Develop the Record, Appeals Use it

Perhaps the most important underlying difference between the trial process and the appeals process is that one of the most important functions of the trial court is to develop a record of the case. Everything that is said during the trial is recorded by the court stenographer, and all of the pieces of physical evidence are retained by the court. Taken together, this constitutes the record of the case.

If a case gets appealed to an appellate court, then there is no sense in having all of the witnesses come to the court again to give the same testimony that they gave during the trial, or to have all of the other evidence presented all over again. Therefore, the appellate court relies on the record that the trial court developed.

The Importance of Preserving Issues for Appeal

Because the appellate court only uses the record of the case, it becomes crucially important for a trial attorney to preserve issues for appeal. If an issue – like whether evidence should be admitted or not – is not raised during the trial, it will not make it into the record. If the issue does not make it into the record, then the appellate court never sees it, and cannot resolve it if it gets appealed.

Appeals Attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center

If you have been convicted of a federal crime and want to appeal your conviction, then one of the most pressing issues that will turn up before the appeal can be made is whether the issue you want to challenge has been preserved. Sometimes, through trial strategy or simple oversight, trial attorneys do not raise an important part of your defense during the trial, and this can handcuff your appeal.

The attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center handle appeals throughout the southeastern United States. Contact our law firm online if you want to appeal your conviction.