The Constitution grants the legislature the authority to divide the State into districts each containing a court of appeal with one or more divisions. (Cal. Const., Art. VI, § 3) California has six appellate districts each organized into at least one division. (Gov. Code 69100) Each division is headed by a presiding justice and has two or more associate justices. Justices are appointed by the Governor after review by the Commission on Judicial Nominations . The Constitution requires that the Governor’s appointment must be approved by the Commission on Judicial Appointments which consists of the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the presiding justice of the court of appeal of the affected district, or if there are 2 or more presiding justices, the one who has presided longest. (Cal. Const., Art. VI, § 7) The Constitution prescribes a term in office of 12 years for justices of the Courts of Appeal, subject to retention by the public at the next general election following appointment and confirmation and at the conclusion of each term. (Cal. Const., Art. VI, § 16)
Appeals from superior court judgments in both criminal and civil cases must be decided on the merits of the case based upon the record on appeal. The Courts of Appeal do not hear testimony, retry the case or reconsider the factual findings of the judge or jury. They review the final judgment or appealable order for prejudicial errors of law. Decisions of the Courts of Appeal that determine a cause shall be in writing with the reasons stated. (Cal. Const., Art. VI, § 14)
Courts of Appeal have original jurisdiction in habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari and prohibition proceedings. In most writ proceedings, the court has discretion whether to decide the merits of the claims set forth in the petition.
Decisions of the Courts of Appeal are subject to discretionary review by the California Supreme Court, however, the scope of review by the Supreme Court differs from that by the Courts of Appeal. The Court of Appeal's primary function is to review the trial courts judgment for legal error. The California Supreme Court’s review on the other hand is to decide important legal questions and maintain statewide uniformity of decisions. In addition to review by the Supreme Court, the decisions of the Courts of Appeal are subject to certain types of review in the federal courts based upon United States Constitutional and statutory grounds.
The state Courts of Appeal are to be distinguished from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The United States Court of Appeals exercises jurisdiction under federal laws and represents the intermediate appellate court in the federal court system. It exercises jurisdiction in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Guam, which includes the Northern Mariana Islands. The judges in the federal court system are nominated by the President subject to Senate confirmation and are not subject to periodic retention elections as are the Justices of the state Courts of Appeal.
First Appellate District
The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District is required to hold its regular sessions in San Francisco (Gov. Code 69101). It is located at 350 McAllister Street.
The First Appellate District in 1905 consisted of three justices in the original Division One, who heard all appellate matters from Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Marin, Monterey, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties. Division Two of the First Appellate District was created by a 1918 constitutional revision which established two divisions of three justices each. Since then the Court has grown, reflecting the increasing population and case growth in the district. Division Three was added in 1961 and division Four in 1966. In 1975 the number of justices in each division was increased to four. In 1981 a fifth division was created and the counties of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey were removed from the First District to create the Sixth Appellate District.
Today the 20 justices of the First Appellate District serve the residents of twelve Northern California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma. Each year the justices review over 2000 criminal, civil, and juvenile appeals and over 1300 original proceedings.