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What’s The Difference Between a Writ and an Appeal?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on February 21, 2020

Law can be a very confusing subject, and one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of a trial is the difference between a writ and an appeal. While both writs and appeals should be done by a qualified attorney, having an understanding of them can help you navigate the complicated process of being acquitted.

What is an Appeal?

An appeal is a formal request for a final judgment, order, or decision by a court to be reviewed by a superior court. Appeals are filed when you believe that a legal error was made during your trial that resulted in you suffering substantial harm. The error may have been made by the judge, attorneys, or any other relevant party.

There are several important factors to understand in the appeal process:

  • An appeal can only be filed once the case is completed. If any aspect of the matter is still open, you will not be able to file an appeal until the rest of the trial has ended.
  • An appeal is not a new trial. No new evidence, comments, or witnesses will be reviewed as part of an appeal – the entire review will be done on the records of the trial that occurred.
  • Winning an appeal is often difficult – the burden of proof lies with the appellant (the side that filed the appeal) to show that a mistake was made, not with the respondent to show that one wasn’t.
  • Once you’ve properly filed for an appeal, you are guaranteed to have the appeal and you will receive the findings and reasoning once the review process is complete.

What is a Writ?

A writ is, in some ways, a “last resort” when it comes to legal proceedings. It is an order from a superior court to a lower court, often as the result of a petition. Unlike appeals, however, writ petitions do not have to be reviewed but are at the discretion of the superior court. Writs are generally reserved for situations where:

  • There is no other legal recourse, or
  • The delay of waiting for an appeal will cause severe hardship

Filing a writ petition can be a complicated process as you must convince the superior court that your petition is justified and that what you’re requesting is significant enough to warrant their attention. Writs do, however, come with several advantages:

  • They can be used to overturn decisions that are legally “unappealable.”
  • The superior courts answer rapidly, as opposed to waiting a year or more for an appeal

Common Writs in the US Judicial System

There are several common writs used in the US judicial system, of which we will describe a few:

  • Writ of Habeas Corpus: Habeas corpus is Latin for “produce the body,” and a writ of habeas corpus is a legal order for a public official (such as a prison official) to bring you before a court and justify your imprisonment. It is a “last resort” when you feel you have been unlawfully imprisoned.
  • Writ of Mandamus: A writ of mandamus is a legal order from a superior court that a public official must perform an act that they are legally required to do, or not to exceed their powers.
  • Writ of Certiorari: A writ of certiorari is an order for a lower court to deliver its records in a case so that the higher court may review it. This writ can be used in cases where an appeal failed, and you still feel an injustice has occurred.

Our Writs and Appeals Specialist

Kelly Quinn, a partner at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP, is recognized by the California State Bar as a certified specialist in criminal writs and appeals. She has over 20 years of experience representing clients in the appeal and writ processes and can take any steps needed to ensure you get justice.

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Posted in: Dictionary