Legal maneuvering is often difficult for the layman to understand. It can be even more perplexing for someone accused of wrongdoing, especially if he or she has to spend time behind bars.

Appeals and writs can go forward at either the state or federal level, but they are very different in meaning and action.

Learning the basics

The losing party in a lawsuit may initiate an appeal, which is a petition to a higher court. The hope is that the higher court will overturn the lower court’s verdict. On the other hand, the higher court will generate a writ, the purpose of which is to direct a lower court or government official to take some kind of action consistent with the law.

Knowing the differences

An appeal must originate from an error at the trial court level. The facts must show that the law in a particular case was clearly misapplied. The appeal may focus on the conviction itself or only on the sentence the court handed down; for example, if the prison term ordered went beyond the legal limit. A writ is an extraordinary court order that is not issued often. The higher court will only issue a writ when the lower court erred in a decision that could result in harm to the party accused of wrongdoing and no other option is available. Because they are immediate orders, writs can disrupt a trial and cause a delay in the proceedings.

Understanding habeas corpus

The literal translation of habeas corpus is “produce the body,” and a writ of habeas corpus is a court order usually initiated by a prison inmate. These petitions are the means for those behind bars to protest their imprisonment, and filing can commence in either state or federal court. Keep in mind that for any writ to succeed, including the writ of habeas corpus, the court must find legal support via clear and convincing evidence.