Appeal, in law, the proceeding by which a decision of a court or judge is taken to a superior tribunal for review. Though appeal is commonly used in the law to describe all revisory proceedings, yet the word strictly belongs to that remedy of the civil law which takes up the whole cause to the higher court and subjects facts as well as law to review. At common law an appellate court takes cognizance characteristically only of matters of law. Matters of fact in that system can be revised only upon a new trial. For example, if a party in a suit conceives that a verdict against him is not, sustained by the evidence, he applies to the court where the case was tried for a new trial. Upon an appeal from the decision on that motion, the appellate court may or may not sustain it; but if it does not, it will not itself pronounce a verdict on the facts, but remits the cause to the lower court, to be tried there again by a jury. - The review upon points of law is bad at common law upon a writ of error, while the appeal is used in courts which follow the practice of the civil law. The distinction between the two modes of review is now abolished in many of our states, but it still remains in the procedure of our federal courts.
In admiralty and equity causes in those courts, matters of fact as well as of law are ordinarily tried in the first instance by a judge without a jury; and appeals from sentences or decrees in such causes carry up the whole case, and the appellate court passes upon the questions of fact and of law alike. But common law causes - the ordinary issues, for example, which are tried with a jury - go up to the appellate court upon a writ of error, and are revised there only in matters of law. - The proceedings upon appeal are in all our states regulated by statutes. Indeed, without some such authority the right of appeal does not exist at all. The subject of appeal is ordinarily the final judgment or action of the inferior court, and it must be the final decision upon the substantial matter and merits of the cause. Orders of the court upon mere points of practice in the progress of the action, which do not involve its merits, or which rest in the pure discretion of the court below, are not subjects of review. But a plain abuse of judicial discretion, or a clear mistake in exercising it, may give good grounds for appeal; and so may the refusal of the court below to exercise a discretionary power on the mistaken ground that it did not possess it.
A party cannot appeal from a judgment entered against him on his default or consent, nor from his own judgment of nonsuit, nor where he has agreed that the judgment of the lower court shall be final. The right to appeal may also be lost by taking proceedings on the footing of the decision, and especially by accepting any benefit under it. Properly, only a party to the record may appeal, and he only when he is aggrieved or injured by the decision; but he may be injured by a judgment, even in his favor, which is less favorable to him than he is entitled to, and in such a case he may appeal. A party to the record loses his right of appeal when he ceases to have any interest in the subject of the suit. If a party to the record dies, the right of appeal does not exist in his legal representative until he is substituted as a party in the action. - When the matter comes before the appellate court, the presumption is in favor of the judgment below, and the question is whether for any cause the judgment shall be reversed. Unless there is a majority or other controlling vote for reversal, the judgment stands aftirrmed of course.
As the appellate court is inclined to sustain the decision of the court below unless there is clear reason for reversing it, it will not look into any part of the judgment which is not appealed from, nor take notice of any defects or insufficiencies in the proceedings below, unless they were formally objected to there - unless, indeed, the insufficiencies not objected to could not have been cured by the opposite party below if the objection had been stated; and even a ruling to which the appellant did object, but which has done him no substantial harm, will not be noticed. An erroneous charge of the judge below which is wholly extraneous and immaterial is no ground for reversal; nor will a verdict be set aside for misdirectien of a judge, if the court can see from the whole evidence that the result would have been the same, if the objectionable instruction had not been given, or when the whole evidence justifies the verdict. If a judgment is right in point of law, it is no reason for reversing it that it cannot be sustained on the ground on which the count below proceeded. - When the appeal brings up questions as to the sufficiency of the evidence to support a verdict, an appellate court is disinclined to disturb the finding of the jury unless it is clearly and centainly against the weight of the evidence, the theory of our law being that the jury is the best tribunal for de-ciding all matters of fact.
The same principle applies to findings by referees or by judges trying causes without juries; and in such cases, especially when the evidence was conflicting, the conclusions as to facts will not ordinarily be reversed. - In all our states the statutes will be found to contain provisions relating to the conditions of appeals, namely, in respect to the time within which they must be taken, the security which must be given, and the effect of the appeal in staying proceedings on the judgment appealed from. As to the time for taking the appeal, if it is prescribed by statute, it cannot be extended by the court; and if an appeal is not taken within the limit, it is lost. Ordinarily, the appellant does not secure his right of appeal until he gives a bond or some such undertaking for costs; and he does not stay execution on the judgment against him unless he gives a like security for the payment of the amount of it in case it is affirmed. - With respect to criminal cases, the statutes of most of the states provide for reviews of verdicts upon writs of error at the instance of the convicted party. But there is ordinarily no appeal or remedy of that sort allowed to the people to reverse a judgment of acquittal.