Legal Standards of Review on Appeal in Georgia

What are the legal standards of review on appeal in Georgia? Strickland Webster, LLC can help you understand these standards. Book an appointment with us today.

Navigating the Legal Standards of Review on Appeal in Georgia

The standard of review is a crucial factor appellate attorneys consider when assessing the chances of winning an appeal. These standards serve as a compass for appellate attorneys because they define the deference the appellate court will give to the lower court’s decision.

Various standards of review exist, each with unique implications. Understanding these standards, when they apply, and how to raise them can be complex. An experienced appellate attorney can advise you on these standards and evaluate your case to determine whether an appealable issue exists.

If you need assistance with appellate issues or preservation of error for appeal, contact Strickland Webster, LLC.

Understanding the Basics of an Appeal


An appeal signifies a request to a higher court to scrutinize a decision rendered by a lower court. Following a trial court’s verdict, the aggrieved party can seek recourse by appealing to a higher court. Appellate courts, often termed appeals courts, review the proceedings and outcomes of cases adjudicated in lower courts.

Various higher courts handle appeals in Georgia, including the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Georgia Supreme Court, Federal District Courts, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the US Supreme Court. Appellate divisions within the trial courts, such as the Superior Court, also hear some appeals.

The primary function of appellate courts is to ensure the correct application of the law and adherence to legal procedures by lower courts. They do not retry cases or entertain new evidence but scrutinize the trial record and legal arguments. This scrutiny is crucial to uphold the rule of law and guarantee the accurate application of legal principles.

Why Pursue an Appeal?

Numerous factors may prompt individuals to pursue appeals under Georgia law, including:

  • Legal errors by the trial court judge, such as erroneous jury instructions, allowing inadmissible evidence, or imposing an unlawful sentence.
  • Inadequate evidence presented during trial to justify the verdict.
  • Disproportionate or inadequate damage awards.
  • Abuse of discretion by the trial judge marked by arbitrary, unfair, or unlawful rulings.
  • Discovery of significant new evidence unavailable during the original trial.
  • Ineffective assistance of legal counsel impacting the trial’s fairness.
  • Bias or conflict of interest by the judge, jury, or witnesses.
  • Violations of procedural or constitutional rights, like due process or self-incrimination.

There are three types of appeals in Georgia: interlocutory appeals, direct appeals, and discretionary appeals.

An Overview of Legal Standards of Review

Georgia appellate courts employ various legal standards of review when evaluating appeals. Some key standards of review include plain error, de novo, and abuse of discretion.

Plain Error

This standard allows an appellate court to consider errors improperly preserved at the trial court level. For an appellate court to review an issue under plain error, it must substantially affect the party’s rights and be so clearly erroneous as to result in a miscarriage of justice.

This standard is used sparingly and only in exceptional circumstances.

De Novo

Under this standard, the appellate court reviews the lower court’s decision entirely anew, without deference to the trial court’s determinations. De novo review applies to questions of law decided by the lower court. De novo review is appropriate where there is no dispute regarding the evidence or credibility of witnesses.

Conclusions of law by a trial court are not due deference by an appellate court. On appeal, the appellate court will re-decide the issue of law by interpreting statutes, applying precedent, or evaluating constitutional matters.

Abuse of Discretion

When the trial court erred by making a specific decision, the appellate court will use the abuse of discretion standard. This typically involves issues of trial management or conduct, like rulings on issues of discovery, evidence, juror selection, or a motion for mistrial.

This standard of review does not substitute the appellate court’s judgment for the trial court’s. Instead, it evaluates whether the trial court’s discretion was exercised within legal boundaries.

Abuse of discretion may occur if the trial court applies an erroneous legal standard, misapplies the law, or makes unreasonable factual determinations. As long as the discretion’s scope remains within legal bounds, the appellate court defers to the lower court.

Appellate Criteria and Guidelines

When evaluating appeals, appellate judges adhere to specific guidelines and criteria. A key factor is how appellate courts consider evidence presented at trial. Appellate courts do not re-evaluate evidence but assess if a reasonable jury or trier of fact could have reached the same conclusion based on the evidence.

Past precedents also play a pivotal role in appellate decisions. Published opinions on legal issues are a binding authority that the appellate courts must follow. When determining if the lower court made an error, the appellate court analyzes whether proper procedure was followed, the law was correctly applied, and rights were protected. Overall, precedent, procedural compliance, and deference to fact-finding shape how appellate courts evaluate appeals and make their final judgment.

Real-Life Case Study from Strickland Webster, LLC

You might ask, “How successful are appeals in Georgia?” The answer depends, in part, on the lawyers you use. At Strickland Webster, LLC, we have maintained a good record in terms of appeals.

One of these noteworthy achievements is our victory in the case of Williams v. State, heard by the Georgia Court of Appeals. T.W., the client, faced charges related to a dispute over a romantic interest.

Despite insufficient evidence linking T.W. to the incident, the State attempted a last-minute shift, framing the case as gang-related. Our firm successfully challenged the prosecution’s irregularities, leading to the Georgia Court of Appeals to find that the trial court abused its discretion by (1) denying T.W.’s motion for a continuance, (2) denying his motion for a new trial, and (3) limiting his cross-examination of the victim. Ultimately, T.W.’s convictions were vacated, and he was immediately released.

Handling appeals demands a nuanced understanding of the law and Georgia’s procedural rules. However, our team is committed to navigating these complexities to secure the best outcomes for our clients.

Federal Appeals vs. State Appeals

Both federal and state courts hear appeals, fundamental differences exist between the two. State appeals arise from state court decisions on state law issues. Federal appeals, on the other hand, address issues of federal law.

A federal appeal is appropriate for cases involving federal law or a constitutional matter. This generally involves appeals from a federal district court decision. However, a person convicted in Georgia state court may also file a federal habeas petition arguing a violation of the US Constitution or other laws of the United States.

Federal appeals lawyers like the ones at Strickland Webster, LLC can help you understand the federal appeal process and appeal options. Our attorneys have represented clients before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and understand the complexities of taking appeals through the federal court system.

Let Our Appellate Experience Work for You

Navigating the appeals process requires understanding Georgia’s complex appellate standards. With focused knowledge and a proven record, Strickland Webster, LLC, is a reliable guide for steering appeals toward success.

We maintain an impressive track record and are committed to obtaining justice by addressing legal missteps. We help clients facing federal criminal charges or those appealing state and federal convictions in Georgia.

Learn how we can assist you on your state or federal criminal appeal. Contact our office today to schedule your consultation.