Just What Are the Standards of Appellate Review When an Appeal is Filed?

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Appeals & Appellate Law Attorney

Most people realize that a trial court’s decision is not always the last word in a legal case or decision.  In the United States judicial system, there is something known as an appeal.  Basically, the creators of our legal system knew that people make mistakes – even judges – so they created the appeal process, sometimes called the appellate process. You take advantage of it if you think a trial court ruled incorrectly on your case. If so you can file an appeal of the judgment.  There are obviously certain exceptions to appealing a judgment, but usually you are permitted to do so.  But those exceptions are not the focus of this article – today we will talk about a process of Appellate court review known as the “standard of review.”

An appeal to the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court essentially asks that court to go back and review the trial court’s judgment.  Just like when one edits an essay, there are many different reviews one can do – one can review for spelling errors, punctuation errors, syntactical errors, and style errors.  In the Appellate court, it’s the same thing.  This is what is called “standards of review” that are applicable to the appellate court: sufficiency of the evidence, manifest weight of the evidence, abuse of discretion, plain error, harmless error, doctrine of invited error, and the de novo standard of review.  On appeal counsel for each party will request a particular standard of review and explain why he or she believes it is appropriate.   The most common standard of review is de novo – the others you really don’t see too often.

When analyzing the trial court’s opinion on the sufficiency of the evidence, the appellate court looks at whether the evidence , if believed by an average person, would convince him or her that a certain party proved his case by a preponderance of the evidence.  When the a court looks at the total weight of the evidence they have a duty to weigh the evidence and determine whether the findings of the lower court were so contrary to the weight of the evidence to support a retrial and reversal of judgment..

Abuse of discretion occurs when an appellate court finds that the trial court judge acted in an unreasonable or arbitrary manner that resulted in an unfair/unjust result.  Plain error is self-explanatory.  This occurs when there is such an apparent or obvious error by the judge that the lower court’s decision must be reversed in some regard.  Then if there is harmless error, it will be noted, but this will not give the court enough reason to reverse the judgment.

Under the de novo standard of review, the appellate court reviews the trial court’s application, construction, and interpretation of the law.  De novo literally translates to “over again” or “anew.”  This is usually the standard on appeal that an appellate court uses.

When appealing a trial court judgment it is highly recommended that you call an attorney versed in appellate procedure.

To discuss your NJ Appeal and Appellate law matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.