How Do the California Courts of Appeal Work?
The majority of cases brought before the courts of appeal in California involve reviewing superior court decisions. The California legislature separates the state geographically into six appellate districts, each with a court of appeal. Three of the appeals courts have multiple divisions (the First, Second, and Fourth Appellate Districts), making a total of 19 divisions for all six districts.
- 1st District located in San Francisco - Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma Counties
- 2nd District located in Los Angeles and Ventura - San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties
- 3rd District located in Sacramento - Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo, and Yuba Counties
- 4th District
Division 1, located in San Diego - Imperial and San Diego Counties
Division 2, located in Riverside - Inyo, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties
Division 3, located in Santa Ana - Orange County
- 5th District, located in Fresno - Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Tuolumne counties
- 6th District, located in San Jose - Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties
By law, the courts of appeal have appellate jurisdiction in cases where the superior courts have original jurisdiction and specific case types as mandated by California state statutes. An exception to this are cases in which a death sentence has been passed. Appeals for death sentences are automatically directed to the California supreme court. Like the Supreme Court, the Courts of appeals have original jurisdiction in:
- mandamus (compelling an official duty)
- certiorari (review of judicial action)
- habeas corpus (challenging confinement)
- prohibition proceedings (restraint of action)
The courts of appeal also receive writ proceedings from the Public Employment Relations Board, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. The courts do not hear testimony or retry cases. An appeal is only decided on the record from the original proceeding or trial in the superior court. Common cases brought before Californian courts of appeal include cases involving:
- Improper jury instructions
- Incorrect ruling on the admissibility of evidence
- Incorrect application of a regulation or law
- Insufficient evidence to support the verdict
There are 106 justices in the six appellate districts. Each appellate District has a presiding judge and a minimum of two associate justices. Justices in the courts of appeal are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The Commission includes the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the presiding justice of the District. After confirmation, each justice must be approved by voters in the District where the Court of Appeal is located). This approval happens at the next general elections and the end of a justiceship term. An individual must have a minimum of ten years of experience as a judge or attorney to be considered for service as an appellate justice.
Judges of the California Courts of Appeal serve 12-year terms. If a nominee is confirmed to a vacant position in the Court of Appeals partway through a term, the nominee may only serve the remaining period of the term before standing for election. In like manner as other judges in California, judges in the Court of Appeals may be removed at any period before the expiration of their terms if found wanting by the Commission on Judicial Performance. However, the Commission on Judicial Performance only institutes a removal proceeding in cases of gross judicial misconduct.
Cases in the Courts of Appeal are assigned to a panel of three justices within a district or a division. The assignment is done randomly based on a rotation system that equalizes the number of cases in which the court of appeal justices participates. Cases are only assigned when all briefs have been submitted. A brief is a written argument that a party or an attorney prepares for the court. Contained in the briefs are issues raised by the appellant, challenges to superior court findings or judgments, applicable statutes, and previous cases to support the appellant’s position. Roughly 10 to 15 appeals are assigned to each justice per month, asides the monthly caseload of an average of seven to ten original filings.
After the panel of justices in a court of appeal has heard an oral argument or an oral argument has been waived by the parties involved in an appeal, an assigned member of the panel prepares an opinion, which is the panel’s written statement’s decision. Initially, draft opinions are circulated among all panel members until an agreement is reached on a majority of opinions. Two of the three justices must concur to form a majority.
An opinion may be published if it involves a legal issue of continuing public interest, establishes a new rule of law, or substantially contributes to legal literature. Opinions are usually filed within 90 days after the case has been submitted. Opinions that are published establish a precedent and must be followed by all superior courts in California. Unpublished opinions may not be cited as authority to support an argument in court.
According to the United States Constitution and federal laws, decisions of the courts of appeal may be reviewed by the California supreme court or a U.S. supreme court.
Persons interested in obtaining case information for matters handled by the California Courts of Appeal may use the Search Case Information tool on the California Courts website. Case information may be obtained per the District Court of Appeal, as indicated below:
Users may choose one of four options to obtain Court of Appeal case information:
- Search by Court of Appeal, or Trial Court Case Number
- Search by Party
- Search by Attorney
- Search by Case Caption
The search result page shows a list of Court of Appeal case information matching the user’s data. To view more details, select the Court of Appeal case number from the search result. Other information such as briefs, docket, disposition, lower court case information, and parties and attorneys’ details may be accessed on the case page. To obtain actual court records, visit any of the locations of the districts below:
1st District Court of Appeal
350 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
2nd District Court of Appeal
Divisions 1 - 5, 7 & 8
Ronald Reagan State Building
300 S. Spring Street
2nd Floor, North Tower
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Phone: (213) 830–7000
200 East Santa Clara Street
Ventura, CA 93001
Phone: (805) 641–4700
3rd District Court of Appeal
914 Capitol Mall,
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 654–0209
4th District Court of Appeal
750 B Street, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 744–0760
3389 Twelfth Street
Riverside, CA 92501
Phone: (951) 782–2500
601 W. Santa Ana Blvd.
Santa Ana, California 92701
Phone: (714) 571–2600
5th District Court of Appeal
2424 Ventura Street
Fresno, CA 93721
Phone: (559) 445–5491
Fax: (559) 445–5769
6th District Court of Appeal
333 West Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA 95113
Phone: (408) 277–1004