Most people have heard that appeals are rarely won, and after being told by a friend, or witnessing firsthand, the “mistakes” that a trial court can make, are left wondering how that is possible. The appeal process can seem a bit one-sided and at times quite unreasonable. Understanding the intricacies of an appeal, however, can help take the puzzle out of the process. This blog demystifies legal appeals in Indiana and discusses the various challenges and solutions involved in an appeal.
The very first challenge that may arise when discussing a legal appeal is appealability. Not all decisions of the trial court are appealable. In general, only a final order or judgement can be appealed (Ind. App. R. 5(A)). A final order or judgement is defined as one which resolves all issues and effectively ends the case. So, for example, while a party may disagree with the court’s decision to admit evidence it wanted excluded, an appeal cannot be immediately taken, instead the party must wait until the resolution of the entire case to raise the inclusion of the evidence on appeal. Working past an adverse ruling until the completion of a case can be difficult, as the admitted evidence may be referred to through-out the proceedings. In an instance such as this, renewing the original objection each time the evidence is mentioned will help to preserve the issue for appeal, should an adverse final judgment be issued.
This leads to another challenge, which is quite common when appealing a trial court’s decision: the appellate attorney was not the trial attorney. When counsel did not have the opportunity to object to or preserve any issue for appeal during trial, winning the appeal can be that much more difficult. Anticipating the possibility of appeal and hiring trial counsel who is also an appellate attorney can prevent this from becoming an obstacle. However, once the time has passed and the obstacle exists, the best solution may be to look for other issues which may be more easily won, or simply attempt to argue the issue anyway. The appellate court has been known to consider an argument despite the issue not being raised or preserved for appeal in the trial court (Zeigler Bldg. Materials, Inc. v. Parkison, 398 N.E.2d 1330 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980)) and may also do so based on plain error (United States v. Hall, 142 F.3d 988 (7th Cir. 1998)).
When reviewing a case, the court of appeals has more than one standard that it may apply, based on the issue(s) being appealed. The customary standard of review is abuse of discretion (Brown v. State, 703 N.E.2d 1010 (Ind. 1998)). Abuse of discretion will be found where the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances (Avalle v. State, No. 22A-CR-2819 (Ind. App. Aug. 17, 2023)). If findings of fact and conclusions of law were entered by the trial court, pursuant to Trial Rule 52(A), the appellate court will determine whether the evidence supports the findings, and the findings support the judgement. It will set aside the findings and conclusions if they are clearly erroneous. Clearly erroneous means there are no facts or inferences to support the judgment (Bertrand v. Gordon, No. 22A-DN-2698 (Ind. App. Aug. 16, 2023)). It should be noted that under the clearly erroneous standard, there must be no facts or inferences to support the judgement, not just fewer facts and inferences that support it than those that do not. When reviewing sufficiency of the evidence claims, the court will affirm the conviction unless no reasonable fact finder could find the elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. (Horns v. State, No. 22A-CR-2813, at *6 (Ind. App. Aug. 18, 2023)).
In no case will the appellate court reweigh the evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses. If the trial court believed one witness who told a different story than three other witnesses, so will the appellate court. Reframing an issue mostly of fact into one of both fact and law, or a constitutional issue if possible, making the appellant human with a story to tell, as opposed to dryly describing the facts and the error committed by the trial court, as well as only raising the issues with the strongest argument can all allow a seasoned appellate attorney to successfully meet these roadblocks head-on.
As you can see, legal appeals in Indiana can present some challenges, but there may also be many solutions to these challenges. An experienced appellate lawyer can determine which issues are most likely to be won on appeal and make a compelling argument for reversal of the trial court’s decision. If you are considering an appeal, or have initiated the appellate process, the attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. will fight for you and your rights.
This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.