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A Guide to the Court of Appeals in Civil Cases in Massachusetts

When a judge bangs the gavel, many people assume a case is closed – the defendant must now serve his or penalty, pay a fine, and move on. However, many defendants will appeal their cases to a higher court in an attempt to reverse a judge’s decision. For example, a higher court may overturn a verdict at the state level.

Not every case can be appealed. There must be a reason, such as prosecutorial misconduct, misappropriated evidence, jury bias, or a comparable problem. Desire to overturn the original ruling isn’t enough, and minor mistakes do not qualify.

How Does the Appeals Process Works in Massachusetts?

People can file appeals for civil and criminal cases, bankruptcy rulings, and more. The appealing individual (the appellant or petitioner) files a notice of appeal, and the opposing party (the appellee or respondent) submits a response. The initial filing must demonstrate why the appeal is being made, citing any legal reasons the ruling should be reversed. This is often enough for an appeal to be approved, but the petitioner may also go before a judge to defend the claim orally.

Appeals can:

  • Provide legal options following local or state-level rulings. There are several options for defendants appealing at the state level; they also may institute a federal review if the case meets certain conditions.
  • Remand the case. Once someone submits an appeal, it will be thrown out, closing the case, or remanded to a lower court to deal with it again.
  • Suspend judgment. Filing a supersedeas bond can suspend the execution of a judgment, though the appellant agrees to serve or pay the penalty if the appeal is overturned.

Appeals can’t:

  • Grant a new case. An appeal doesn’t guarantee a retrial or a new case. The court may not allow new evidence or witnesses.
  • Give the prosecution another shot. A prosecutor cannot try a defendant for the same charges twice, per Massachusetts’s double jeopardy law; however if the prosecution simply isn’t happy with a verdict, an appeal is generally not an option.
  • Waive judgment. The initial ruling may still be enforced, whether an appeal has been filed or not.

Deflategate: A Real-World Example of the Appeals Process in Massachusetts

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been in the legal spotlight for reported involvement in deflating the footballs used in the 2015 AFC championship game. This litigation has lasted more than a year, involving multiple appeals by the NFL, the Patriots, and Brady:

  • The alleged cheating took place in January 2015. Several balls were said to be underinflated and used in the game.
  • The NFL launched its initial investigation, including an analysis of more than 40 player and staff interviews. The league found that the balls used in the game didn’t meet its inflation standards.
  • The NFL introduced new evidence and witnesses to support its investigation of the Patriots: a locker room attendant had submitted unapproved balls for the game.
  • In May 2015, an official report was released stating that the Patriots likely cheated and that Brady probably knew.
  • The NFL suspended the quarterback for four games, fined the Patriots $1 million, and took away two draft picks. The Patriots’ owner accepted this decision, but Brady appealed his suspension.
  • The Patriots presented an oral case for Brady’s exoneration.
  • A month after that appeal, the original suspension was reinstated. Brady destroyed his cell phone when the scandal broke, which was considered an incriminating action.
  • Brady filed another appeal, this time to the U.S. District Court. The appeal was granted, and the judge canceled the suspension.
  • However, in December, the NFL appealed that ruling. In March 2016, the organization’s legal teams presented and oral defense of that appeal.
  • A federal court reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension on April 25.

As can be seen from the example above, the appellate process can be extremely complicated and appealing to a higher court takes finesse, articulation, and unshakable expertise. For more information on these laws and the legal options available to you when appealing a case, contact us today and see how we can clarify the law for you.

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