The entire appeal process in Arkansas can take as little as four months and up to two years.
The four-month figure is not realistic, but it’s theoretically possible. It would require that everyone involved (appellant, appellee, court reporter, circuit clerk, trial court, Supreme Court clerk, and appeals court) handle their business immediately. This never happens.
Appeal Process: After Trial Court
After the trial court makes its decision and enters an order, the appellant has thirty days to file a notice of appeal, but she might also file a motion for reconsideration or motion to vacate or motion for a new trial. When one of these motions (called a post-trial motion) is filed, time is added to the process.
The appellant must wait on the court to make a decision on the motion. Once the decision is made (or the court never does anything), the 30-day period to file the notice of appeal begins. This could transform this stage of the appeal process from 30 days to 70 days.
Appeal is Filed
Once the notice of appeal is filed, the appellant has 90 days to “lodge” the record. However, because the appellant is waiting on the court reporter and circuit clerk to prepare the record, it might take longer. The appellant can request an extension of time from the appeals court if the record is not ready by the 90-day mark.
The appellant can request multiple extensions of time, but the record must be lodged within seven months of the notice of appeal. We’re at nine months already.
Once the record is lodged, the appellant has thirty days to file the brief, abstract, and addendum. It is pretty common practice for the appellant to request an extension of time for this, because it is a huge task. She can get one seven-day extension and then three thirty-day extensions. That’s another possible four months, which brings us to thirteen months.
The appellee gets the same option, with the three extensions, bringing us to sixteen (!) months.
The appellant then gets the option of a reply brief, but that will only set us back another ten days.
Once the appeals court takes the case to make a decision, it normally takes about a month for it to render an opinion. That puts us at about eighteen months from trial decision to appeals decision, with no real detours along the way. Everyone took their precious time, granted, but there wasn’t any significant setbacks.
Once the decision is made, the losing party can file a motion for rehearing or motion for review (or both, in certain instances). This pushes the process out another month for briefing and probably another month for a decision.
At this point, we’re twenty months into the process, factoring in only the normal things that happen and the maximum time allowed. If, however, the appeals court has to send the record back to the trial court to get fixed, that is more time. If a brief or abstract is deficient, that can also be more time. There are many potential delays along the way.
This purgatorial sequence of events reiterates the most important part about handling an appeal: It’s best to win at trial. The only thing more painfully slow and tedious in the legal process than trial is an appeal.