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How Appeals in Pennsylvania State Courts Work

For many, the trial is the end of the legal process. A verdict is rendered, and both parties move on with their lives. However, sometimes, it is the case that the defendant is dissatisfied with the ruling or thinks that something went awry in the legal process. In those cases, parties can appeal their case to a higher court, alleging that the outcome would – and should – have been different if a particular mistake was not made.

In Pennsylvania, there is a specific process for appealing a case to a state court. First, you have to identify whether there is an issue that can be raised on appeal, such as letting in evidence that should not have been admissible in court. Then, you must submit your appeal in a timely manner to the appropriate appeals court, which then decides whether you get a new trial or not based on any legal errors that may be present.

For a free analysis of your case, call our Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorneys from The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.

When Are You Allowed to File an Appeal in a Pennsylvania State Court?

Every defendant has the right to appeal their case, but you need a valid reason to do so. Cases can only be appealed when there is legal error present, and that error is able to be remedied on appeal.

Legal error, however, can be appealed. A legal error is different than a factual error. Pennsylvania courts are very wary of appealing factual findings, so it is very unlikely that you could successfully appeal a case because of something the jury determined. The term “legal error” refers to a mistake the judge or a lawyer made instead of a conclusion the jury came to. Some examples of legal errors are a judge getting a law wrong or allowing evidence into a case that should have been suppressed or barred under the rules of evidence.

Additionally, the error in question needs to be “reversible.” An error is “reversible” when the outcome of the case likely changes based on that error. If the outcome would not change if the error is fixed, the error is said to be “harmless” and cannot be raised on appeal.

What Court Do I Appeal to in the State of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has three courts to which you can appeal a case. They are the Superior Court, the Commonwealth Court, and the Supreme Court. All trials are initially heard at the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. From there, the type of case being appealed determines what court it goes to.

Most civil cases will be appealed to the Superior Court, while cases where the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the parties get sent to the Commonwealth Court. This includes all criminal matters.

Cases appealed to both the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court can be appealed again to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – which may choose to deny the appeal. It should be mentioned, though, that appealing your case this far is not common, and electing to appeal a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is not a decision to be made lightly.

How to File an Appeal in a Pennsylvania State Court

The appeals process in Pennsylvania is complicated and sometimes lengthy. In fact, many attorneys will specialize in appeals because they are so different from trial. Our Montgomery County criminal appeals attorneys have detailed the Pennsylvania state court appeals process so that you know what to expect.

Notice of Appeal

The very first thing that needs to be done in a Pennsylvania state court appeal is to file a notice of appeal. A notice of appeal is a formal indication that you want to appeal a ruling. The notice of appeal needs to be filed within 30 days of your final disposition, so you need to determine very quickly if you wish to go forward with your claim.

Record On Appeal

After you give your notice of appeal, the court starts putting together a “record on appeal.” A record on appeal is the formal documentation of all the things that happened during the trial and before. The judge will rely on this heavily when working through your appeals claim.


Another important part of the appeal process is the appellate brief. These are legal documents that each lawyer prepares in order to argue to the appeals court why their side is correct. These documents are sent to the appeals judge, who will carefully consider their contents.

Briefs are extremely important to the success of appeals since oral argument is not always guaranteed. Indeed, a brief may be the only thing a judge sees about a particular issue on appeal.

Oral Argument

A portion of appeals will also have oral arguments by attorneys. No jury is present during these oral arguments. The process of arguing on appeal is different from trial arguments, so being effective in appeals arguments requires different skills than arguing at trial. Our lawyers can represent plaintiffs in both trials and appeals, so we can help you through the appeal process as well as a potential retrial.

Appeal Decision

After the appeals judge considers all arguments, they give their decision regarding the appeal. Judges can do a few different things at this point.

First, a judge may affirm the lower court’s decision. When this happens, no reversible error was found, and the trial verdict will remain. Alternatively, the judge is able to reverse the lower court’s decision to varying degrees. More often than simply reversing a case, though, a judge will likely “remand” it. A remanded case is returned to the lower court for what can amount to a “do-over.” Often, remands will have specific instructions sent with them in order to guard against whatever issue causes the case to be appealed the first time around.

Talk to Our Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Attorneys About Your Case Today

The Law Offices of Lloyd Long’s Bucks County criminal appeals attorneys are ready to discuss your case when you call our offices at (215) 302-0171.