Writing An Effective Appellate Brief

When preparing to draft an appellate brief, every good appellate lawyer in South Carolina knows how important it is to narrow the issues down for the actual brief.  While an appellate attorney in SC may research many issues when reviewing the trial transcripts,  there are usually no more than four of five issues that should be raised in a brief.  If you can not find any case law that supports your position, you may want to re-think raising the issue in your brief.

Another important point to consider is the standard of review, which is how the appellate court reviews a decision made by the trial court.    For example, if the criminal defense lawyer in South Carolina did not make an objection at the trial level and the issue is not preserved, it may only be reviewed for plain error.  This is a very high standard and if the court can only review the issue for plain error, the error must be clear and the prejudice to the defendant must be evident in the record.  It is best to raise issues that have a de novo standard of review because the appellate court considers the issue “anew”, independently of the trial court’s findings.

Another important aspect of an appeal, whether State of Federal, is the record on appeal which is often referred to as the appendix by federal appellate lawyers in SC.   The record contains the important documents for the Appellate Court to consider, including the pleadings, relevant court orders, the judgment and the trial transcripts.  If you are appealing  from a lengthy trial, it may not be in your best interest to include all of the trial transcripts, as this may be excessive.  You need to ask yourself what documents are important for the issues you are raising in your brief when preparing the appendix.

When drafting the argument section of your initial brief, you want to be clear and concise. Do not use exaggerated expressions or exclamation points! Cite cases from South Carolina if you are filing the brief in the South Carolina Court of Appeals.  If the case is federal, and you are filing the brief in the Fourth Circuit, you want to cite Fourth Circuit case law.

It is also important to check the brief for typos and citation mistakes.  When you cite to the appendix in your statement of facts and throughout the brief, make sure the citations to the record are accurate.  Also, you must accurately cite case law and be sure to check that the cases you used are still good law.  It is a good idea to have another lawyer who handles appeals in South Carolina review the brief before it is filed, a fresh pair of eyes may catch additional mistakes.  It is so important to file a clean brief.

Lastly, once you receive the answer brief, it is almost always a good idea to file a reply brief.  However, a reply brief should not simply re-hash what was said in your initial brief, you should only respond to the arguments raised in the answer brief.  You get the last word, make it count.

If you have any questions regarding appeals in South Carolina or appeals in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, contact the Mace Firm.  We handle appeals in the State of South Carolina, as well as the Federal System, including the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.