14.1 - Overview14.2 - Direct Appeals14.3 - Crim. p. 35(b) Proceedings (Reconsideration of Sentence)14.4 - Crim. P. 35(c) Proceedings14.5 - Revocation Proceedings14.6 - Appeals to Federal Court14.7 - Appeals in Civil Cases


A direct appeal is one taken from the trial court directly after the judgment, asking a higher court to review the proceedings. An appeal is not an opportunity to re-litigate a case. Appeals are limited to a determination whether the trial court made any legal errors during the proceedings that affected the outcome. Appeals from municipal and county court go to district court. Appeals from district court generally go to the court of appeals. And appeals from the court of appeals go to the Colorado Supreme Court. A losing party generally has the right to one appeal. For example, a person who is convicted of a felony in district court has the right to appeal and be heard by the court of appeals. However, any subsequent appeal - in the just cited situation, from the court of appeals to the Supreme Court - is a discretionary appeal. A discretionary appeal is one that can be accepted or rejected by the appellate court. The appeal can address only the issue of whether the trial court made some error in handling the proceedings. For example, there may be a claim that the trial court improperly let a biased person sit on the jury, or improperly allowed the introduction of unfairly prejudicial evidence, or incorrectly instructed the jury. These are referred to as errors of law. The appellate court reviews the record, the transcript of the proceedings, to determine whether any error was committed.

Even if the appellate court finds error, however, reversal is not automatic. The appellate court will first determine whether the error was likely to have affected the outcome. Error that did not affect the outcome is referred to as harmless error, and will not result in a reversal of the verdict below. If the court finds prejudicial error, error that did likely affect the outcome, it will reverse of the judgment below. If the appellate court determines that no error occurred or that any error was harmless, it will "affirm" the judgment.

It is important to remember that most appellate decisions that reverse a verdict in the court below result in the case being sent back or "remanded" to the trial court to be re-litigated. A reversal on appeal usually is not a determination that the 'other side won.' It is merely a finding that the proceedings were not fair enough and should be done over. Thus, a criminal defendant whose conviction is reversed on appeal is generally returned to the trial court for a new trial or settlement. A civil litigant who wins an appeal must likewise go back to the trial court and either settle the case with the opposing party or re-try the case.

An important exception to this general rule is based on the constitutional principle of double jeopardy. Double jeopardy provides that, with certain exceptions, a criminal defendant cannot be tried twice for the same offense. A defendant who is convicted and appeals his case is not protected by double jeopardy principles and may be tried again. However, if a criminal defendant is acquitted, and the prosecution wins an appeal, the defendant cannot be tried again. In winning such an appeal, the prosecution obtains a ruling that the trial court erred, but the prosecution cannot re-try the case. For this reason, the prosecution rarely engages in direct appeals in criminal cases. (This is a different process than the process of interlocutory appeals that are discussed in Chapter 7.7.)

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