California Courts of Appeal

The California Courts of Appeal were established by constitutional amendment in 1904 and are California’s intermediate courts of review. The primary function of the Courts of Appeal is to ensure that the law is interpreted and applied correctly.

California has 6 appellate districts composed of 9 court sites, 19 divisions, and 101 justices. More than 22,000 appeals and original proceedings were filed in the Courts of Appeal during the 2001–2002 fiscal year, representing a nearly 30 percent increase in Court of Appeal filings over the last decade.


An appeal is a request to a higher court to review a decision made in a completed trial or proceeding. Most legal disputes are initially decided by superior courts or cer- tain administrative agencies. After the trial or proceeding is completed, if the losing party is dissatisfied with the out- come and believes that the superior court or administrative agency made an error that adversely affected the result, it may ask the trial court judge to overturn the decision or to order a new trial. If the judge denies the request, the losing party may file an appeal in the Court of Appeal.


The California Courts of Appeal review the vast majority of appealable orders or judgments from a superior court. The primary exception arises following a judgment of death, which is automatically appealed directly to the California Supreme Court. Courts of Appeal also do not ordinarily review decisions that are within the jurisdiction of the appellate division of the superior court, such as misde- meanor convictions and limited civil cases.

The Courts of Appeal decide questions of law, such as whether the superior court judge applied the law correctly in a case. The Courts of Appeal do not hear testimony or retry cases. An appeal from a superior court judgment is decided based on the record from the original trial or proceeding.

Issues brought to a Court of Appeal for review common- ly include claims such as an incorrect ruling on admissibility of evidence, incorrect application of a law or regulation, unconstitutionality of a law or regulation, improper jury instructions, and insufficient evidence to support the verdict.


The Courts of Appeal have appellate jurisdiction in appeals from cases heard in a superior court and in other matters prescribed by statute. In addition, petitions for writs of habeas corpus (challenging confinement), mandamus (compelling an official duty), certiorari (review of judicial action), and prohibition (restraint of action) may be filed initially in the Courts of Appeal, which, like the Supreme Court and superior courts, may have original jurisdiction in such matters.

The Courts of Appeal also consider challenges to deci- sions of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the Public Employ- ment Relations Board, and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, as well as some decisions of the Public Utilities Commission.

Courts of Appeal review such diverse matters as crimi- nal convictions, civil cases involving personal injury, regu- latory disputes, business transactions, family law disputes, employment claims, contracts, and other matters that liti- gants may bring to the courts.


The state is divided into six appellate districts, with courthouses in the following cities: First District—San Francisco; Second District—Los Angeles and Ventura; Third District—Sacramento; Fourth District—San Diego, Riverside, and Santa Ana; Fifth District—Fresno; and Sixth District—San Jose. The First, Second, and Fourth Appel- late Districts are subdivided into divisions.

A presiding justice and two or more associate justices sit in each appellate district or division. An individual must have 10 years of experience as a lawyer or a judge in Cali- fornia to qualify to serve as an appellate justice. Justices are appointed by the Governor and must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which consists of the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the presiding justice of the district. Following confirmation, each justice must be approved by the voters in the next gubernatorial election and at the end of his or her term.



An appeal generally is heard in the appellate district in which the superior court is located. To begin the process, the appealing party files a written notice of appeal with the clerk of the superior court in which the proceeding took place. In civil cases, both the appellant and the respondent (the opposing party) must file notices with the clerk of the appellate court within prescribed periods of time, designat- ing which transcripts or papers filed in the superior court are to become part of the appellate record. In criminal and juvenile cases, transcripts are prepared automatically. All parties are notified once the record on appeal has been filed with the Court of Appeal.


From the date the record was filed, the appellant has a spec- ified period of time within which to file an appellant’s opening brief, depending on the type of case. A brief is a written argument that a party or an attorney prepares for the court. It details issues raised by the appellant, including challenges to superior court rulings or findings, and refers to applicable statutes and previous cases to support the appellant’s position. The respondent is then given an opportunity to file a brief in response, and the appellant may then file a reply brief.

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