Original Proceedings in Appellate Courts
Appellate courts serve an important function in our legal justice system. Not only do they hear appeals from trial courts and administrative agencies, but they also have original jurisdiction in certain cases. Having “jurisdiction” means having the power to make legal decisions. When a court has appellate jurisdiction, it has the power to decide whether or not a lower court or agency came to the right conclusion. In those cases, the appellate court may base its decision only on the trial court record. In other words, the appellate court may only review evidence that was presented in the trial court; it may not consider new evidence.
Original jurisdiction is the power to hear a case for the first time. Florida law grants the state’s appellate courts (which include the Florida Supreme Court and five intermediate appellate courts called the District Courts of Appeal) original jurisdiction to issue extraordinary writs. One common example is the writ of habeas corpus.
A writ is a formal written order by a court. Habeas corpus literally means, “you have the body.” When a prisoner petitions for a writ of habeas corpus, he is asking the court to rule on the validity of his detention. In one Florida case, Stephens v. State, the appellant argued that his life sentence was unfair because the trial judge falsely believed that his conviction mandated a life sentence. The Second District Court of Appeal agreed that the appellant should be afforded the opportunity to have his sentence reconsidered.
There are additional types of extraordinary writs that appellate courts may issue:
- Writ of certiorari – Normally an appellate court hears a case when a party appeals a lower court decision. However, Florida law allows its intermediate appellate courts to review certain non-final order in at their own discretion if they are not subject to appeal under Rule 9.130 and the petitioner can show that the lower tribunal departed from the essential requirements of law or applied the wrong law and he or she would be harmed if review were to wait until the case is finished. The petitioner provides records to the appellate court in an appendix to the petition. When an appellate court issues a writ of certiorari the lower tribunal must follows the appellate court’s instructions. (This power no longer extends to the Florida Supreme Court because nearly all of its cases are accepted upon its discretion.) A petition for writ of certiorari is also used to seek review of quasi-judicial orders of county, municipal, or state agencies that cannot be appealed under the Administrative Procedure Act, or to seek limited (“second-tier”) certiorari review of decisions of circuit courts acting in their appellate capacity (i.e., where a panel of circuit trial court judges decided an appeal from a county court order).
- Writ of mandamus – The general rule is that a lower court decision may not be reviewed until a final judgment has been made. But in extraordinary cases, a party may appeal an aspect of the proceeding before the trial has been concluded, and the writ of mandamus is used to compel a trial court or government agency to perform a ministerial act that the court or agency has failed or refused to perform, such as to rule on a pending motion. For example, a party might petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the judge to issue an order.
- Writ of prohibition – This allows an appellate court to order a lower court not to act in a certain matter. For example, it may order the lower tribunal to end a legal proceeding. If the lower court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case (e.g., where a statute confers jurisdiction upon a different tribunal or a criminal prosecution is barred by the statute of limitation), or it may deem a judge disqualified from proceeding further over a case where there has been an indication of bias or prejudice that would likely prevent the petitioner from getting a fair trial or hearing before that judge. A petition for writ of prohibition in the appellate court is often used to challenge a trial-court judge’s denial of a motion for disqualification.
- Writ of quo warranto – Appellate courts may utilize this power to prevent Florida officials from exercising their government authority improperly, such as if someone were to claim the right to a public office that is actually held by another official. For example, a newly-elected official might file a petition for writ of quo warranto if the incumbent who was voted out, refuses to let the newly-elected official to take over the position after the election. This is an extremely rare remedy.
- “All-writs” – An appellate court is empowered to issue “all” or “other writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction.” For example, the court may use this power to keep the status quo while deciding whether some crucial statute or rule is constitutional.
Each writ carries its own procedural requirements, as set forth in the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. The extraordinary nature of these writs – their limited reach and exacting procedural rules – requires the attention of an experienced appellate attorney. The Law Offices of Robin Bresky only handles appeals, appellate law and litigation support. Our thorough knowledge of the appellate process has no equal in South Florida. Your inquiries are welcome. Contact us today at 561-994-6273.