A notice of appeal is a formal legal document that informs the court and the opposing party that a person involved in litigation is going to appeal. Appeal means asking a higher court to look at what a lower court did in a given case and to determine if that lower court behaved correctly. Appeals exist in both criminal and civil cases, and in civil cases, either party can appeal.
When a person goes to court, his fate is decided by a judge or a jury. Even when a jury makes a decision on the guilt or innocence of a defendant, a judge is still involved in the case, making rulings on things such as what evidence can be admitted and what instructions are given to the jury. The court must apply the law correctly when it makes any and all decisions during a case.
Sometimes a party believes that the court made a mistake in the way it applied the law. In such cases, that party may file a notice of appeal. The notice of appeal can be filed only with a higher court. If, for example, a state court made a decision on a case, the appealing party could not file an appeal with the same court. The party would have to file an appeal with the district court — the court above or higher than the state court.
The appeal is a formally written request that this higher court take a look at how the law was applied. In most cases, the appeals court looks only at questions of law. In other words, the court will not determine whether the jury was right in its decision on whether the facts of the case were true. For example, if the jury decides that the plaintiff is telling the truth, the higher court won't come along and say that it doesn't really believe the plaintiff after all. The appeals court will only look at whether the law was applied correctly by the judge and by the jury; so, for example, it will look at whether the court or jury interpreted the burglary statute correctly in the given case.
Either party can file notice of appeal in a civil case. This means if the plaintiff loses, he can appeal the decision. If the defendant loses, he too can appeal. Even the winning party can file notice of appeal. If, for example, the plaintiff doesn't believe the jury awarded high enough damages under the law, the plaintiff can appeal.