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STANDARDS OF REVIEW

The Rules of the Court of Appeals require that Part Three of every appellant’s brief “shall include a concise [short] statement of the applicable standard of review with supporting authority [a case or law] for each issue presented in the brief.” Court of Appeals Rule 25 (a) (3). Court Rules also require that an appellee’s brief include the standard of review “if different from that contended by the appellant.” Court of Appeals Rule 25 (b) (2). The standard of review is a the first question the Court of Appeals usually answers when looking at an appeal, because it establishes how much deference to give the trial court’s decision.

Please keep in mind, however, that if you did not object to an issue and obtain a ruling while your case was before the court or agency or administrative body whose decision you are appealing, the Court of Appeals may not be able to consider it. You would have “waived” or lost your right to appeal it, and if so, the proper standard of review may not matter.

Preservation of error. Issues not raised in the trial court and ruled on by the trial court cannot be raised for the first time on appeal because generally they are deemed waived. Frey v. State, 338 Ga. App. 583, 587 (3) (790 SE2d 835) (2016).

NOTE: This list does not cover every single issue that might be raised on appeal, but is is intended to help you get started. Because the law is constantly evolving and changing, please remember to check and make sure that any cases you cite in your brief, including these, are still good law.

Back to top For criminal cases generally:

Denial of motion to sever. The severance of a co-defendant’s trial is within the sound discretion of the trial court whose decision will not be disturbed unless that discretion is abused. White v. State, 308 Ga. App. 38, 42 (3) (706 SE2d 570) (2011).

Denial Batson motion. The trial court’s denial of a Batson motion is reviewed under a “clearly erroneous” standard. Ford v. State, 298 Ga. 560, 565 (6) (783 SE2d 906) (2016).

Excusing a juror for cause. Whether to excuse a juror for cause is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and will not be disturbed unless that discretion is manifestly abused. Collins v. State, 308 Ga. 608, 612 (3) (842 SE2d 811) (2020).

Insanity defense. Whether the evidence, when construed most favorably for the State, would be sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find that the defendant failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was insane at the time of the crime. Lawrence v. State, 265 Ga. 310, 311 (1) (454 SE2d 446) (1995); Simon v. State, 321 Ga. App. 1, 1-2 (740 SE2d 819) (2013).

Motion to suppress. The trial judge sits as the trier of facts when considering a motion to suppress, and his factual findings will not be disturbed by a reviewing court if there is any evidence to support them. In addition, the trial court’s decision with regard to questions of fact and credibility will be accepted unless clearly erroneous. The reviewing court will construe the evidence most favorably to upholding the trial court’s findings and judgment. Brown v. State, 293 Ga. 787, 803 (3) (b) (2) (750 SE2d 148) (2013); State v. Burgess, 349 Ga. App. 486, 490 (826 SE2d 352) (2019).

Admission of a custodial statement. After the trial court conducts a Jackson-Denno hearing and finds that the statement of a defendant “was freely and voluntarily made,” that finding will be upheld on review unless it was clearly erroneous. Smith v. State, 265 Ga. 570, 571 (2) (459 SE2d 420) (1995). The trial court’s application of the law to undisputed facts is subject to de novo review. Stallings v. State, 343 Ga. App. 135, 142 (2) (806 SE2d 613) (2017).

Admission of prior bad acts evidence. A trial court may admit evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts if : (1) the evidence is relevant to an issue in the case other than the defendant’s character, (2) the probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, and (3) there is sufficient proof for a jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed the prior act. The trial court’s decision will not be disturbed unless there is a clear abuse of discretion. West v. State, 305 Ga. 467, 473 (2) (826 SE2d 64) (2019).

Evidentiary rulings – objection at trial. When a trial court’s evidentiary ruling is objected to at trial, that ruling is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. State v. Parks, 350 Ga. App. 799, 807 (830 SE2d 284) (2019).

Evidentiary rulings – no objection at trial. When no objection is made to the trial court’s evidentiary ruling at trial, that ruling is reviewed for plain error. State v. Parks, 350 Ga. App. 799, 807-808 (830 SE2d 284) (2019).

Plain error review. To establish plain error, four factors must be met: (1) there must be an error or defect – some sort of deviation from a legal rule that has not been affirmatively waived by the appellant; (2) the error must be clear or obvious; (3) the error must have affected the appellant’s substantial rights; and, if the first three factors are met, the reviewing court may, in its discretion, provide a remedy if (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Wilson v. State, 301 Ga. 83, 88 (799 SE2d 757) (2017).

Denial of motion for mistrial. A trial court’s decision denying a motion for mistrial will not be disturbed unless there is a manifest abuse of discretion. Clack v. Hasnat, 354 Ga. App. 502, 507 (3) (841 SE2d 210) (2020).

Jury charges – objection at trial. When an objection is made at trial to a jury charge, or the failure to give a requested jury charge, the jury charges are reviewed as a whole to determine any error. Scott v. State, 302 Ga. 29, 31 (2) (805 SE2d 40) (2017).

Jury charges – no objection at trial. When no objection is made at trial to a jury charge, or the failure to give a requested jury charge, the matter will only be reviewed for plain error. Scott v. State, 302 Ga. 29, 31 (2) (805 SE2d 40) (2017).

Denial of directed verdict of acquittal. The standard of review for the denial of motion for directed verdict of acquittal is the same as for determining the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction. Patel v. State, 351 Ga. App. 580, 581 (831 SE2d 513) (2019).

Criminal conviction. The standard is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury’s verdict, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Patel v. State, 351 Ga. App. 580, 581 (831 SE2d 513) (2019).

Criminal conviction - circumstantial evidence. The standard is whether a rational trier of fact could have found the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and to the exclusion of every other reasonable hypothesis except that of the defendant’s guilt. Stokes v. State, __ Ga. App. __ (2) (845 SE2d 305) (2020).

Criminal contempt. The appellate standard of review of a criminal contempt conviction is whether, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Waitz, 255 Ga. App. 841, 842 (567 SE2d 87) (2002).

Effectiveness of counsel. The standard of review of a trial court’s determination as to the effectiveness of counsel is whether the trial court’s findings are clearly erroneous. Johnson v. State, 287 Ga. 767, 769 (2) (700 SE2d 346) (2010).

Motion in arrest of judgment – defective indictment. Post-conviction review of an allegation of a defective indictment is one of harmless error. Kirkland v. State, 282 Ga. App. 331, 334 (3) (638 SE2d 784) (2006).

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Selection of jurors. Reviewed for a manifest abuse of discretion. See Walls v. Kim, 275 Ga. 177, 178 (563 SE2d 847) (2002).

Discovery rulings. Control over discovery including the imposition of sanctions is reviewed for a clear abuse of discretion. Ford Motor Co. v. Gibson, 283 Ga. 398, 401-402 (1-2) (659 SE2d 346) (2008).

Decision to bifurcate trial. Reviewed for a clear and manifest abuse of discretion. Whitley v. Gwinnett County, 221 Ga. App. 18, 19 (2) (470 SE2d 724) (1996).

Evidentiary ruling. Decision to admit or exclude evidence including relevant evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Dept. of Transp. v. Mendel, 237 Ga. App. 900, 902-903 (2) (517 SE2d 365) (1999).

Qualification of witness as expert. Ruling will not be disturbed absent a manifest abuse of discretion. Moran v. Kia Motors America, 276 Ga. App. 96, 97 (1) (622 SE2d 439) (2005).

Construction of a contract. Reviewed de novo on appeal. Question of law for the trial court unless, after the application of the rules of construction, the contract remains ambiguous. Antoskow & Assocs., LLC v. Gregory, 278 Ga. App. 468, 469-470 (629 SE2d 1) (2005).

Denial of motion for mistrial. Reviewed for a manifest abuse of discretion. Vega v. La Movida, 294 Ga. App. 311, 315 (1) (b) (670 SE2d 116) (2008).

Submission of special verdict form to jury. Reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Dolan, 342 Ga. App. 179, 182 (2) (803 SE2d 104) (2017).

Grant of summary judgment. On appeal of a grant of summary judgment, the appellate court must review the evidence de novo to determine whether the trial court erred in concluding that no genuine issue of material fact remains and that the party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491, 491 (405 SE2d 474) (1991); Rubin v. Cello Corp., 235 Ga. App. 250 (510 SE2d 541) (1998).

Grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The appellate court must determine whether there was some evidence to support the jury’s verdict or whether a consideration of all of the evidence demanded a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Cottrell v. Smith, 299 Ga. 517, 522 (II) (788 SE2d 772) (2016).

Grant of motion for a directed verdict. The proper standard on appellate review is the “any evidence” test. The court construes the evidence most favorably toward the party opposing the motion. Cottrell v. Smith, 299 Ga. 517, 518 (I) (788 SE2d 772) (2016).

Grant of new trial. “The first grant of a new trial shall not be disturbed by an appellate court unless the appellant shows that the judge abused his discretion in granting it and that the law and facts require the verdict notwithstanding the judgment of the presiding judge.” OCGA § 5-5-50. Thus, our Court will reverse the first grant of a new trial only if the evidence of record absolutely demanded the verdict as rendered. Bhansali v. Moncada, 275 Ga. App. 221, 222 (1) (620 SE2d 404) (2005).

Denial of judgment notwithstanding the verdict, motion for directed verdict, or motion for new trial on general grounds. An appellate court is to determine whether there is any evidence to support the jury’s verdict. In so doing, the court must construe the evidence in a light most favorable to the prevailing party in the court below. Patterson-Fowlkes v. Chancey, 291 Ga. 601, 602 (732 SE2d 252) (2012).

Jury verdict. After approval of a jury verdict by the trial court, the judgment entered thereon will not be disturbed on appeal if supported by any evidence, in the absence of any material error of law. Yash Solutions, LLC v. New York Global Consultants Corp., 352 Ga. App. 127, 132 (1) (834 SE2d 126) (2019).

Validity of verdicts. Since there is a presumption in favor of the validity of a verdict, all the evidence and every presumption and inference arising from the evidence must be construed most favorably toward upholding the verdict. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Wiley, 220 Ga. App. 442, 443 (2) (469 SE2d 302) (1996).

Bench trials. In reviewing a bench trial, the appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s rulings, defers to the trial court’s credibility judgments, and will not set aside the trial court’s factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous. Gibson v. Gibson, 301 Ga. 622, 624 (801 SE2d 40) (2017).

Question of law. De novo or independent review on appeal. Since no deference is owed to the trial court’s ruling on a legal question, the “plain legal error” standard of review is applied. Suarez v. Halbert, 246 Ga. App. 822, 824 (1) (543 SE2d 733) (2000).

Damage awards. A reviewing court will not interfere with a jury’s award of damages unless the amount is so small or so excessive that it justifies an inference of gross mistake or undue bias. Green v. Proffitt, 248 Ga. App. 477, 478 (1) (545 SE2d 623) (2001).

FELA damages. The jury’s determination of FELA damages is otherwise inviolate, absent an award so excessive or inadequate as to shock the judicial conscience and raise an irresistible inference that passion, prejudice or another improper cause invaded the trial. Norfolk Southern R. Co. v. Jones, 219 Ga. App. 602, 608 (4) (a) (466 SE2d 260) (1995).

Attorney fees under OCGA § 13-6-11. Reviewed under the “any evidence” standard. L.S. Land Co. v. Burns, 275 Ga. 454, 457 (3) (569 SE2d 527) (2002).

Attorney fees under OCGA § 9-15-14. Under subsection (a), reviewed under the “any evidence” standard. Under subsection (b), reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Adams v. Pinetree Trail Enterprises, LLC, 347 Ga. App. 697, 698 (1) (820 SE2d 735) (2018).

Motion to open default. Reviewed for abuse of discretion, meaning that the trial court's ruling will stand unless there is no evidence to support a finding that the statutory grounds set forth in OCGA § 9-11-55 were met. Nelson v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. System of Ga., 307 Ga. App. 220, 223 (1) (704 SE2d 868) (2010).

Civil contempt. If there is any evidence from which the trial court could have concluded that its order had been violated, we are without power to disturb the judgment absent an abuse of discretion. Murphy v. Murphy, 330 Ga. App. 169, 177 (6) (b) (ii) (767 SE2d 789) (2014).

Back to topFor specialized civil matters generally:

Termination of parental rights. The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the juvenile court’s disposition, and a determination is made as to whether any rational trier of fact could have found by clear and convincing evidence that the natural parent’s rights to custody should be terminated. In the interest of D. P., 326 Ga. App. 101, 102–03 (756 SE2d 207) (2014).

Change of child custody. Whether there are changed conditions affecting the welfare of the child which will warrant changing custody is a fact question, and the trial court’s decision will be upheld if there is reasonable evidence to support the decision. Green v. Krebs, 245 Ga. App. 756, 756 (1) (538 SE2d 832) (2000).

Workers’ compensation case generally. The findings of the Appellate Division of the State Workers’ Compensation Board must be affirmed by the superior court and by the Court of Appeals when supported by any evidence. Emory Univ. v. Duval, 330 Ga. App. 663, 666 (768 SE2d 832) (2015).

A decision by the full Workers’ Compensation Board on a request for change of physician. The proper standard of review is whether the Board acted arbitrarily or in excess of its powers. Franchise Enterprises, Inc. v. Sullivan, 190 Ga. App 767 (380 SE2d 68) (1989). See also Decostar Indus., Inc. v. Juarez, 316 Ga. App. 642, 645 (2) (730 SE2d 120) (2012).

Decision of State Personnel Board. The standard of judicial review of a decision of the State Personnel Board is set forth in OCGA § 45-20-9 (m). State Personnel Bd. v. Morton, 198 Ga. App. 845, 847 (2) (403 SE2d 455) (1991).

Special master’s award. The trial court, in an appeal from an award of a special master, sits as the trier of fact and thus the “any evidence” rule is applied in reviewing the judgment entered by the trial court. Cernonok v. Kane, 280 Ga. 272, 273 (1) (627 SE2d 14) (2006).

Arbitrator’s decision. Power to vacate an arbitration award is severely limited and a reviewing court is bound to confirm an arbitration award unless one of the four statutory grounds set forth in OCGA § 9-9-13 (b) is found to exist. Greene v. Hundley, 266 Ga. 592, 596 (2) (468 SE2d 350) (1996). An appellate court is prohibited from considering the sufficiency of the evidence underlying an arbitration award. Id. at 596-597 (2).

Denial of stay. Power to stay proceedings is discretionary power so reviewed for abuse of that discretion. Austin v. Nagareddy, 344 Ga. App. 636, 638 (811 SE2d 68) (2018).

Denial of release from civil commitment. The standard is whether, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, a rational trier of fact could have found that the defendant failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that he was sane. Nagel v. State, 264 Ga. 150 (1) (442 SE2d 446) (1994).

As mentioned in the beginning of this document, this list does not cover every single kind of case, but is offered as a way to help you get started. Because caselaw changes sometimes, please be aware that some of these cases could have been overruled since this list was last updated in September 2020.


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