How Do Trial Courts and Appellate Courts Differ?

How Do Trial Courts and Appellate Courts Differ?

While a party may think a court is a court, nothing could be further from the truth as it relates to Indiana’s trial and appellate courts. One court system has cases filed in their circuit and superior courts for decision by a judge or jury and the other reviews final orders on “appeal” from these trial courts. This blog addresses the ways in which Indiana’s trial and appellate courts differ. 

In Indiana, there are approximately one-million lawsuits filed each year. These are filed in the circuit and superior courts in Indiana’s ninety-two counties. These courts operate under the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure.  Furthermore, the evidence presented to the judges of these courts must follow the Indiana Rules of Evidence in order to be admissible as evidence in the case.  Lawyers who work in these courts are litigators or trial attorneys; most do not handle appeals. It is not until a case is decided in one of these courts on all pending issues that the Indiana Court of Appeals comes into play. 

If a party “loses,” he or she is an aggrieved party and has the right to appeal his or her case as a matter of right to the Court of Appeals of Indiana, not the Indiana Supreme Court who picks the cases it decides to hear and decide in what is known as transfer. Most trial attorneys are not appellate attorneys.  Appellate attorney’s central body of rules they work from are the Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure.   

Ironically, there are no trials in the Indiana Court of Appeals or Indiana Supreme Court:  No exhibits are admitted. No witnesses are sworn.  In fact, the only similarity between these courts is they both issue written opinions and have judges or justices (Indiana Supreme Court). While the Court of Appeals has judges and the Supreme Court “justices” they do not hear cases. They, instead, review cases from Indiana trial courts. 

Since most cases will never make it to the Indiana Supreme Court and to differentiate a trial court case (most readers will have some understanding of trial court practice) from an appellate court, this blog now turns to the Indiana Court of Appeals and how an appeal is taken by an aggrieved party to the Indiana Court of Appeals.   

In general terms, the appellate process is nothing more than having your trial court final order reviewed by a higher court, as noted, the Court of Appeals of Indiana. This is a right of every litigant who believes the trial court judge (or jury) incorrectly decided their case, and the appeal is taken to the Court of Appeals of Indiana. The Court of Appeals of Indiana is located in Indianapolis and is comprised of fifteen judges. The appellate process starts by an aggrieved party filing a timely Notice of Appeal. Your trial court judge will not be involved in the process in any way once an appeal is filed.   

The Notice of Appeal is the key document to the moving forward with the appeal of the adverse judgment and consideration of potential errors by the Court of Appeals of Indiana under Indiana Rule of Appellate Procedure 9(F). The Notice of Appeal is the “instruction sheet/guide” to the appeal.  Once filed, it triggers the Clerk to file the Clerk’s record. The Clerk has thirty (30) days to file the Clerk’s record.  

In addition, to the Notice of Appeal. This directs the trial court reporter as to which hearing dates to transcribe. The trial court reporter has forty-five (45) days to prepare the transcripts. The transcript and exhibits are the materials the Court of Appeals of Indiana primarily relies upon in considering the brief, along with the appendices the Appellant files.  

Once the transcript is filed, the appellant has thirty (30) days to research, write and file the Appellant’s Brief. Because custody decision are so important to get right, extensions of time to file a brief are granted only in extraordinary circumstances. After the Appellant’s Brief is filed, the Appellee has thirty (30) days to file the Appellee’s Brief.  Because the Appellate brought the appeal alleging error, the Appellate can file a Reply Brief within fifteen days. 

After the briefing is completed, the Clerk of the Court of Appeals of Indiana transmits the briefs to the judges who will be deciding the case. These are three randomly assigned judges from the Court of Appeals of Indiana (there are 15 judges total). These judges are called the writing panel because they will be writing the decision to affirm, and reverse in part, or reverse the trial court’s decision in the case before it..   

The decisions of the Court of Appeals of Indiana may be memorandum decisions or published decisions. A published decision means that the case had some point of law important enough to “publish” it so it may be relied upon by other appellants (and trial attorneys and judges) as the current state of the law in the future. 

If an Appellate/Appellee does not obtain relief they seek on appeal, he or she has thirty (30) days to ask the Court of Appeals of Indiana to reconsider its decision. If rehearing is not sought, then the Appellate or Appellee has forty-five (45) days to ask the Indiana Supreme Court to grant transfer and decide the case.  This is totally discretionary, and after briefing, the Indiana Supreme Court decides if it will grant transfer of the case and decide the matter.   

Ultimately, unless the Supreme Court grants transfer, the decision of the Court of Appeals of Indiana will stand and decide the case; it will be binding and enforceable once certified back to the trial court. Thus, a party who does not prevail in the trial court in their child custody case has the right to appeal. The key is the appeal is timely perfected. 

This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. who handle appeals of all final judgments. This blog is written for general educational purposes.  The blog is not to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. This blog is not legal advice. The blog is an advertisement.  We hope blog helps you understand the appellate process.   


Quick Contact

Need to talk now? Fill out the quick form below and we will contact you directly.

What Our Clients Say About Us

Contact Us