How to Navigate the Appellate Process in Indiana: An In-Depth Analysis

The appellate process is very different from trial procedure and may at first be intimidating and difficult to navigate. The first step is to learn the structure of Indiana’s court system and the purpose of each court. Once you have an understanding of each courts function, the appellate process will be easier to navigate. This blog discusses how to navigate the appellate process in Indiana with an in-depth analysis of each step. 

There are two levels of courts in Indiana. The trial courts and the appellate courts. Trial courts consist of local city, town, and county courts. These courts hear cases and conduct trials and may be referred to as trial or lower courts. The appellate courts consist of the Indiana Court of Appeals, the Tax Court, and the Indiana Supreme Court, and are sometimes referred to as higher courts. The appellate courts do not conduct trials, but review cases that have already been tried for reversable error. Almost all appeals go the court of appeals, except cases where life imprisonment or the death penalty is involved, cases in which a statute is declared unconstitutional, attorney discipline cases, and those involving taxes. these go to the tax court and the rest to the Indiana Supreme Court (Indiana Judicial Branch). The court of appeals must hear all cases sent to it. The Indiana Supreme Court is the highest court in Indiana (Indiana Supreme Court). Unlike the court of appeals, the supreme court does not have to hear all cases and may decline to review cases sent to it by the court of appeals or the tax court. 

Any party who disagrees with a trial court’s final judgment may appeal to the court of appeals by filing a notice of appeal with the trial court and the court of appeals within 30 days of issuance of the final judgment (Ind. App. R. 9(A)(1)). The notice lets both courts know the decision is being appealed, directs the trial court clerk to assemble the clerks record and file it with the appellate court, and requests that the court reporter prepare transcripts of any hearings or trial dates relevant to the issues being appealed. Once this is filed, you can expect the court reporter to contact you regarding a downpayment for the transcript and payment arrangement for the amount due once the transcript(s) is completed and the total amount can be determined. The initial downpayment will be 50% of the estimated total amount (Ind. App. R. 9(H)). 

The clerks record includes the chronological case summary (CCS), and any documentary evidence submitted to the trial court. The clerk has 30 days from the date the notice of appeal is received to prepare and transmit the record to the appellate court (Ind. App. R.10(B)). Transcripts are due 45 days from the date the notice of appeal is received (Ind. App. R. 11(B)). During this time, there may be nothing for you or your attorney to do, unless your appellate attorney was also the trial attorney. In this case, if you are the party who initiated the appeal, your attorney may begin to select the issues that he or she will argue in the appellate brief. If your appellate attorney was not also the trial attorney, he or she will not be able to begin working on the brief, as they were not present at the trial and will need to wait for the transcript in order to determine what the issues are and which ones should be included in the appeal. Parties who did not initiate the appeal will have 30 days from the date the appellants brief is filed to prepare and file a response, or appellees brief (Ind. App. R. 45(B)(2)).   

When the transcript is completed and filed with the court, the appellant’s attorney will review the transcript and court filings to determine what issues may be reversible error. Reversible errors are ones where the trial court abused its discretion, made a decision that is not supported by any evidence, applied the wrong law, or committed any other error that affects a parties substantive rights or the outcome of the case (Indiana’s Probable-Impact Test For Reversible Error). Many errors may be determined to be harmless by the appellate court. Harmless errors are ones which do not affect a parties substantive rights or the outcome of the case. In Durden, the court explained harmless error, “At its core, the harmless-error rule is a practical one, embodying the principle that courts should exercise judgment in preference to the automatic reversal for error and ignore errors that do not affect the essential fairness of the trial.'” (Durden v. State, 99 N.E.3d 645, 652 (Ind. 2018)). 

Once an issue or two that may be reversible error have been identified, your attorney will write the appellant’s brief. The brief describes what happened that led to trial and then the appeal, recites the facts relevant to the issues, states the issues being appealed, and presents legal arguments for why the court’s decision should be reversed. The appellee’s brief will recite facts relevant to the appellees argument and present a legal argument for why the court’s decision should be affirmed, or left alone. After both briefs have been filed, the court will review the transcripts, tangible evidence, and both parties briefs and reach a decision. Each case is reviewed by three judges and decisions are majority rule (Court of Appeals of Indiana). A decision can be expected in approximately four months.  

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.


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