When you disagree with the final outcome of your court case, you may be able to appeal. This means asking a higher court to review the outcome. Most cases decided in a circuit court may be appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.
The information on this page covers appeals from circuit court only. For information on appealing from District Court to a circuit court, please see the article on the People’s Law Library.
How does the Court hear appeals?
Most appeals, including those to the Court of Special Appeals, are heard “on the record.” Often, the person who appealed, called the appellant, must order and pay for a transcript of the circuit court hearings to be made. The appellant must write a “brief.” In the brief they explain why they agree or disagree with the lower court’s decision. Other parties involved in the case, called appellees, may file briefs as well. The appeals court will review the transcript, any other documents that were submitted to the circuit court, and all parties’ briefs. The appeals court will then issue a written decision.
In some record appeals, the court may hold a hearing called oral argument. At oral argument, each party will explain the legal reasoning in their brief and answer questions from the judges. Oral argument is not a new trial. You cannot introduce new facts or evidence.
Certain types of cases require an expedited (fast) appeal. Special rules apply to cases involving adoptions, guardianships, child access (custody or visitation), child in need of assistance, and special immigrant juvenile status cases. The deadlines for taking some of the steps required may be shorter so talk to a lawyer or review this guide.
Disclaimer – Appeals to the Court of Special Appeals can be complicated for unrepresented parties. You are expected to provide a written analysis of facts and the law regarding your case. This page provides a basic overview of appeals to the Court of Special Appeals. A more detailed guide may be viewed here. Whenever possible, hire a lawyer to help you with your appeal.
Can I appeal my case?
Before you start the appeals process, make sure your case is ready for an appeal. There are three things you should consider:
Final Judgment Rule
With a few exceptions, you cannot appeal a case until the circuit court enters a final judgment. This means the circuit court made a decision that ended the case. Speak with a lawyer if you are unsure if you have an appealable judgment. Additional information is also available from this guide.
Appeals as a matter of right
In most cases, you are entitled to an appeal as a matter of right. There are, however, some situations where you must first ask the Court of Special Appeals for permission to appeal your case. This is called an Application for Leave to Appeal. Some case types where you must apply for leave to appeal include:
- Denial of a habeas corpus petition filed following the denial of bail
- Guilty pleas and Alford pleas in criminal cases
- Revocation of probation
- Post-Conviction petitions
- Inmate grievances
- Some decisions about persons found not criminally responsible because of insanity or found incompetent to stand trial
- Interlocutory appeals in victim’s rights cases
If your case is one of the listed types, you may refer to this guide for a more detailed explanation of how to apply for leave to appeal.
Is the Court of Special Appeals the right court to hear my appeal?
The Court of Special Appeals hears appeals from the circuit courts and orphan’s courts. It does not hear appeals that come from any other courts.
Sometimes a circuit court case must instead be appealed to the Court of Appeals. The most common example is when a case was appealed already from the District Court to the circuit court. Seek advice from a lawyer about how to appeal to the Court of Appeals or review the article on appeals on the People’s Law Library.
How Do I Start My Appeal?
There are four steps to starting an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. First file a Notice of Appeal. Then pay the costs or apply to have costs waived. Third, when required, file a Civil Appeal Information Report. Last, order a transcript and pay the costs of the transcript.
- File a Notice of Appeal in the circuit court that heard your case. There is no Notice of Appeal form, but a sample is contained in this guide. When you file a Notice of Appeal, you are referred to as the appellant. The other parties in your case are referred to as appellees. Serve a copy of the Notice of Appeal on each appellee. File the notice within 30 days after the circuit court enters the judgment or other appealable order on the docket. The 30-day deadline applies to most, but not all, cases.
- Pay the court costs at the circuit court clerk’s office. Two fees are due when you file the Notice of Appeal.
- The circuit court’s cost for assembling, preparing, and transmitting the record. If you cannot afford this fee, you may complete and submit the Request for Waiver of Prepaid Costs for Assembling the Record for an Appeal (CC-DC-091).
- The appeal fee for the Court of Special Appeals. If you cannot afford this fee, you may complete and submit the Request for Waiver of Pre-Paid Appellate Costs (CC-DC-092).
- Check the Court of Special Appeals fee schedule for current cost information.
- Note: If your request to waive the fees is denied, you must pay the fee within 10 days of the denial. Otherwise, the court will dismiss your appeal. Learn more about fee waivers in appeals cases in this short video:
- File a Civil Appeal Information Report – Complete this step if your case is a civil case. Do not complete this step if you are appealing a criminal case, a juvenile case, a guardianship terminating parental rights, a petition for writ of error coram nobis, or you are a prisoner seeking relief related to confinement or conditions of confinement.
The clerk at the circuit court will give you a copy of the Civil Appeal Information Report when you file your Notice of Appeal. You may also download a copy. Submit the form within 10 days of filing your Notice of Appeal. Submit the form to: Clerk of the Court of Special Appeals, 361 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, MD 21401.
- Order your Transcript and Pay Transcript Costs – You must order a transcript of the hearings that occurred in the circuit court. Place your order at the circuit court where the case was heard. You are responsible for paying the costs of the transcript. The cost of the transcript depends on its length. This cost cannot be waived. Your deadline for ordering and paying for the transcript depends on the type of case you are appealing.
- In criminal cases and certain civil cases (coram nobis, and prisoner’s rights matters), order the transcript within 10 days from the day you file your notice of appeal.
- In civil cases involving child custody, visitation, guardianship of the person of a minor or disabled person, termination of parental rights, adoption, and child in need of assistance, the time frame is shorter. If there is a pre-hearing conference, order the transcript within 5 days after the conference. When the order says there will not be a pre-hearing conference, order the transcript within 5 days from the date of that order.
- In all other civil cases, the Court of Special Appeals will send an order stating if there will be a pre-hearing conference or other alternative dispute resolution. If there is a pre-hearing conference, order the transcript within 10 days after date of the order the court will issue after the conference. When the order says there will not be a pre-hearing conference, order the transcript within 10 days from the date of that order.
A brief is a written document where you explain what you agree or disagree with about the circuit court’s decision. The Court will mail a notice to each party stating the deadline to file briefs. The person who filed the appeal, called the appellant, must file a brief within 40 days of when the case record is received by the Court of Special Appeals. The other parties who did not appeal, called the appellees, may then file a response brief within 30 days after the filing of the appellant’s brief. An appellee is not required to file a response to an informal brief. If the appellee does file a response brief, the appellant may file a reply brief.
Formal briefs must follow specific formatting, style, and legal writing rules. In civil cases, the brief must also be accompanied by a record extract. This is a collection of documents and parts of the transcript necessary to help the Court decide the main issues in the appeal. An explanation and example of a brief and extract is in this guide.
Informal briefs can be an easier way for persons representing themselves to write a brief. Informal briefs have relaxed formatting rules and do not require a record extract. The Court of Special Appeals provides form templates for informal briefs. You may file an informal brief if you are not represented by a lawyer AND:
- The case is an appeal of a foreclosure;
- You are incarcerated; OR
- You are appealing a family law case (including custody, visitation, child support, alimony, marital property, and domestic violence).
In all other situations, you must request the Court’s permission to file an informal brief. Request permission to file an informal brief by submitting a motion.
Motion for Informal Briefing – A motion is a request to the court made in writing. A judge will review the motion and either grant or deny the request. You may use this Motion for Informal Briefing form. For the Court to consider a motion, it must:
- Include a case caption that identifies all parties.
- State what is being requested and why the court should grant that request.
- Be signed by the person filing the motion.
- Include an affidavit if presenting facts not contained in the record. (This is usually not required when requesting to submit an informal brief).
- Be served on each other party by mail.
- Include a certificate of service which serves as proof that copies were mailed.
Starting Your Informal Brief
The informal brief forms are available in three formats:
- Fillable PDF files;
- Printable PDFs that you can fill in by hand or with a typewriter; and
- Microsoft Word files that you fill in with a word processor.
Here are some important rules for informal briefs:
- Use the form provided or write your brief in the same or similar format as the form.
- The form has limited space for issues and explanation. You may write about more than three issues and use more space than the boxes provide. Attach continuation sheets as needed.
- Do not submit a brief longer than 15 pages. This does not include attachments (such as exhibits, transcripts, pleadings, orders, decisions, etc.).
- Write about all issues you want the Court to consider. If you do not mention an issue in your brief, then the Court will not consider it.
- You may cite legal authorities like case law and statutes in your brief. This is encouraged but not required. Watch this instructional video or speak with a law librarian about where to find case law and statutes.
- You may include attachments to your informal brief. Attachments must be documents contained in the case record like exhibits, transcripts, pleadings, and orders.
- An informal brief can be handwritten or typed.
- Pages must be numbered.
- Once you complete your informal brief, two copies must be filed with the Clerk of the Court.
- A copy must also be served on all parties or their attorneys. Complete the certificate of service at the end of the form.
What happens after I submit my brief?
In some cases, the Court may hold a hearing called oral argument. At oral argument, each party will explain the legal reasoning in their brief and answer questions from the judges. Oral argument is not an opportunity to introduce new facts or evidence. If the Court does not schedule oral argument, the case will be decided on the briefs and the record from the circuit court. The court will issue a written decision called an opinion.
These deadlines apply to most appeals but not expedited appeals. Appeals which are expedited have shorter deadlines. If your appeal is expedited speak with a lawyer about your deadlines. Failure to meet a deadline may result in dismissal of the appeal.
Notice of Appeal - In most cases, you have 30 days from the entry of judgment or other appealable order to file your Notice of Appeal.
Pay Costs/Apply to Waive Costs - Costs are due the same day you file your notice of appeal.
Civil Appeal Information Report – Due 10 days after you file your notice of appeal.
Order a Transcript:
- Criminal Cases – within 10 days after you file the notice of appeal
- Civil Cases – within 10 days after pre-hearing conference OR within 10 days after notice that there will be no pre-hearing conference.
Additional information is also available from this guide.