What is meant by “standard of review” and why is it important to set out the proper standard of review in an appellant’s brief?

There are many different standards of review that an appellate court may use in different circumstances.  When filing an appeal, it is important to understand the importance of standards of review in the appellate process and how they can affect the chances of winning.

Sufficiency of the Evidence:  The appellate court may review the trial court’s findings and determine if the evidence in the record is sufficient to support the judgment.  When the trial court’s judgment is for the plaintiff, then the appellate court will consider whether the evidence, if believed, would convince a reasonable person that the plaintiff proved their case by a preponderance of the evidence.  On appeal, the appellate court does not determine the credibility of witnesses. Instead, the appellate court accepts the trial court’s or jury’s fact finding and affirms the judgment if the appellate standard is met.

Manifest Weight of the Evidence:  An appellate court will rarely reverse a judgment as being against the weight of the evidence unless there is no believable evidence in the case to support the trial court’s decision.  The appellate court must weigh the evidence and determine whether the findings of the trial court were sufficiently against the weight of the evidence as to require a reversal or a retrial.  The reviewing court can reverse the judgment when the verdict is so clearly unreasonable that it is unjust.

Abuse of Discretion:  An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court acts in an arbitrary manner that denies a person their rights or causes an unfair result.  Many types of decisions are reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard.  In most cases, a judge’s decision will not be disturbed on appeal unless there is a clear showing that the judge acted arbitrarily.

Plain Error:  The federal plain error standard of review allows an appellate court to correct errors that were not objected to at trial.  However, this relief is limited to situations where the errors were extremely unfair.  Plain error is limited only to errors that are evident, obvious, and clear.  There is no plain error if there is other good evidence that can support a conviction. The plain error rule is applied only in unusual circumstances.

De Novo:  De novo review refers to the appellate court’s ability to review the trial court’s conclusions regarding the application of legal, not factual matters.   An appellant will always benefit from a “De Novo” review because under this standard the appellate court gives no deference to the trial court.

Harmless Error:  Even when a mistake is made, an appellate court will not overturn any judgment because of an error that is harmless.  A harmless error is an insignificant error that did not change the outcome of a case.

No matter what your grounds are for appeal, it is important to hire a Board Certified Civil Appellate attorney like Leslie A. Werner. Having practiced as a staff and research attorney for the Court of Appeals, and being licensed in the United States Supreme Court, Leslie is confident in her abilities to dig into a court transcript and is adept in finding the proper standard of review for your civil appeal. Leslie can be reached by text seven days a week at 361-648-6888.