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By law, every final judgment of a circuit court in a civil or criminal case is appealable as a matter of right. An appeal is a time-consuming, complicated, and costly procedure requiring strict compliance with numerous technical legal rules established by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Time deadline for filing an appeal. One of the most important rules is that a Notice of Appeal must be filed in the circuit court where the trial took place within 30 days of the entrance of a final order that is being appealed. If more than 30 days have elapsed since the entrance of the final order in your case, you very likely have lost your right of appeal. You should contact an attorney immediately to determine if this is the case. A “post-trial motion” ordinarily “tolls” (extends) the time for filing a notice of appeal. The post-trial motion is a motion which asks the trial court for a rehearing, retrial, modification or vacation of the judgment. Post-trial motions must be filed within 30 days of the date of a final order. Again, you should consult an attorney about this.
Appellate counsel. In criminal cases, a defendant seeking to appeal a final order or judgment has the right to petition the trial court for a court appointed attorney (in Illinois called the Appellate Public Defender) to assist him or her in the appeal. Eligibility is based on the same guidelines that determine eligibility for a court appointed lawyer at trial: l) that the defendant has been charged with an offense for which he or she could be sentenced to jail, and 2) that the defendant is “indigent,” that is, cannot afford a private attorney to represent the defendant on appeal. There is no right to a court appointed appellate attorney in civil cases.
Some attorneys specialize in appeals. You can consult the bar association of the county where your case was heard, or the Illinois Bar Association lawyer referral service for the list of attorneys who specialize in appeals. This website is www.illinoislawyerfinder.com/publicinfo/lawyerreferral.html.
What an appeal is. It is important to understand what an appeal is and what it is not. An appeal is a formal request that a party in a lawsuit makes to a higher court to review a decision made by the judge or jury at trial. In Illinois, appeals are made to the Appellate Court of the Appellate District (there are five of these) in which the trial was held, or, in limited circumstances, directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.
An appeal is not a new trial. The appellate court, rather, reviews the record made of the case (all the pleadings, motions, rulings of the judge, and the evidence submitted at trial) to determine whether the judge made “errors of law” which likely affected the outcome of the trial, or whether the decision of the ‘trier of fact” (the judge, if the trial was a bench trial; or the jury, it the trial was by jury) was against the “manifest weight of the evidence.” These are high standards. Many mistakes a judge may make during the trial may be determined to be “harmless,” that is, the error(s) did not affect the outcome of the trial. An example of this is where a judge allowed in evidence which was improper, but there is other properly admitted evidence which the appellate court finds was sufficient to justify a conviction or judgment. The standard for establishing that a judgment was “against the manifest weight of the evidence” is also high. In order for the appellate court to grant an appeal based on this test, the appellate court must determine that no reasonable person should have made the decision the judge or jury made given the evidence presented in the case.
Stays. Appeals do not necessarily “stay” or delay the effect of the judgment while the appeal is pending. In judgments for money, the “appellant” (the person bringing the appeal) must post a money bond, which insures that the “appellee” (the other party) will not be harmed by having to wait for the appeals process to be completed. In criminal cases, the question of whether a defendant will be allowed to be at liberty or must be incarcerated while the appeal is pending is for the trial judge to determine.
Relief and further appeals. In an appeal, the appellant asks for relief, a new trial, a reversal of the decision and dismissal of the case, etc. An appellate court has the right to grant the appeal, in which case it “reverses” the decision of the trial court, or deny the appeal, in which case it “affirms” the decision of the trial court. The appellate court can also “affirm in part, and reverse in part.” If a party disagrees with the decision of the appellate court, it can file a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court for further review. Unlike the appellate courts, the Supreme Court is not required to grant a petition for further appeals. If the Supreme Court declines to hear the appeal, the case is over, unless there is a basis to file for further review to the United States Supreme Court.