What Happens If You Lose an Appeal?

In both civil and criminal cases, losing parties usually have the right to appeal if they are unhappy with the court’s decision at trial. There must also be a legal basis for alleging a mistake at trial. The case is then passed to the appellate court, which looks for a legal mistake and decides whether that mistake affected the final decision from the judge.

When the appellate court agrees with the losing party, the decision will be altered to reflect the agreement, and the case could go to retrial. But, what happens if you lose an appeal at court in the US? 

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What Does It Mean to Lose an Appeal?

Most of us know what happens after an appeal is granted in appellate court—the final judgment is reconsidered, and the case potentially goes to retrial. An outcome without legal mistakes is ensured so there will be a fair judgment for the losing party. But what does it mean to lose an appeal?

Losing an appeal means that the judge of the appellate court agrees with the judgment of the lower court. An appeal will only be granted if the appellate court finds that there was a legal mistake in the court trial that affected the judge’s decision. If the appellate court finds no legal wrongdoing and no proof of anything that impacted the final judgment, the appellant will lose the appeal. At this point, the case ends, and the losing party must accept the decisions of the lower court. Alternatively, the appellant can petition for rehearing or challenge the judgment in the Supreme Court.

Appeal Procedure

We now know what it means to lose an appeal. But what does appeal mean in terms of the court process? Here is a quick look through all the steps that you can expect as part of the appeal procedure:

  1. Petition for Appeal: The appeal process always starts with the losing party (known as the “appellant”) filing an official notice of appeal. Within this legal document is a written argument for why they believe they have a right to appeal. It is a brief that must list the legal arguments against the court’s judgment.
  2. Appellee Responds: The other party is now known as the “appellee,” and they must respond to the notice of appeal with their written argument within a designated time. The appellee can also use this time to ask the appellant questions and to receive responses to those questions.
  3. Court Reviews Information: The appellate court will take the written arguments from both parties and make a decision on whether they believe legal errors occurred. In many cases, the appellate court will call the parties to give oral arguments for the higher court to review with the written briefs to help them form their opinion.
  4. Final Decision: The court will use all information presented to make a decision, which is nearly always issued as a written decision. The judge may draft the final decision multiple times before it is approved by the majority. If the court agrees with the lower court, the case ends. However, if the court sides with the appellant, the appeal is granted.

It is important to note that appeals are purely for the higher court to review the lower court’s decisions on cases. Sharing new or previously unpresented evidence and talking to new witnesses are not allowed as part of the appeal process. An appeal is also not the way  to get a new judge or jury. Moreover, not all appeals with legal errors will be approved. Some legal mistakes are harmless and result in a fair trial despite their existence. If the error had no bearing on the judge’s verdict, then the appeal will not be granted.

Petition for Rehearing

After losing an appeal, the losing party can petition for a rehearing to contest the decision. The party formally asks the court to review the final opinion given by the appellate court. In many cases, a rehearing won’t be granted unless a major error was made during the appeal process or if the case was not looked at fairly. Examples include:

  • The majority opinion was formed based on issues not included in the initial appeal brief.
  • Important facts were omitted during the appeal that could have caused a different outcome.
  • Facts were misinterpreted and misrepresented to the extent of influencing the appellate court’s final decision.

If you wish to petition for a rehearing, you must submit the petition within a certain number of days after the appellate court’s decision is made. The number varies by state but is typically a tight deadline, such as the 15-day window in the state of California. You may want to speak to an attorney as soon as possible so that you won’t miss out on this option following a lost appeal.

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Petition for Review by Supreme Court

Another option for the losing party is to take the case to the Supreme Court. A request goes to the Court asking that they review the case and challenge the decision of the appellate court. However, the Supreme Court has the right to turn away petitions that it does not want to take on. In most cases, you need to ask for permission to appeal from the court that made the judgment, and you have 30 days from the date the appellate court issued its opinion to submit a petition for review by the Supreme Court.

Even if your case does make it to the Supreme Court, you might still not get the result you’re looking for. At this point, can you appeal a Supreme Court decision? In some cases, it is possible to challenge the Court’s decision, but in most cases its opinion is final. 

Pursue Other Types of Post-Conviction Relief

An appeal is not the only option when challenging court rulings. The other main type of post-conviction relief is called a writ of habeas corpus. This differs from a regular appeal in that the losing party can present new evidence and raise new arguments that were not presented in the initial court hearing. Moreover, there is no strict application deadline. However, obtaining this form of relief can be challenging. Issues that could have been raised through a direct appeal are not usually accepted as this form of post-conviction relief. Common grounds for acceptance include jury or judicial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, or violation of due process.


Having read this article, you are now more familiar with what an appeal is, how you can lose an appeal, and the options for gaining further court opinions. You may want to consult with an attorney who has extensive experience in working on appellate law cases. Everyone has the right to a fair trial, and a lawyer can help you navigate the appeals process. 

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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