Delaware County, Indiana

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Appellate Process in Criminal Cases

 
The appeals stage in a criminal case includes all legal proceedings during which an offender tries to overturn a conviction.  The offender's goal is to gain freedom, a new trial, or a reduced sentence.  The appellate process can be lengthy and complex because several courts may need to review the case.  With nearly 2,500 criminal and civil appeals filed with the appellate courts every year, the entire process could potentially take years to complete.  This section will attempt to explain the appeals process in Indiana.
 
An appeal is a review of the trial proceedings and record.  In an appeal, the offender seeks to prove that legal errors were made that are substantial enough to justify a reversal of the conviction or a reduction of the sentence.  The Appellate Court will not reweigh the evidence or try the facts of the case again, but will limit its review to legal issues.
 
The Steps of the Appeals Process
  1. Initiating the Appeal - A direct appeal is started by filing a "Notice of Appeal" in the Trial Court within 30 days of sentencing.  A direct appeal is generally the first appellate review of the case.  Cases involving a sentence of death or life without parole go directly to the Supreme Court of Indiana.  All other cases are taken to the Court of Appeals.  There are deadlines for the preparation and filing of the record of the trial which take a minimum of 90 days to complete.
  2. Briefs - After the record is completed and filed, the Appellant (generally the criminal offender) files the "Brief of Appellant."  The Appellee (generally the State) then responds by filing a "Brief of Appellee."  The State's briefs are prepared and filed by the Attorney General's Appeals Division.
  3. Oral Argument - In all capital cases (causes in which the death penalty has been imposed) and in a limited number of other cases, the Appellate Court may require the parties to appear before the Court.  The Court may ask questions of the attorneys during the presentations.  However, no evidence is taken and only the attorneys are permitted to address the Court.
  4. Decision - Following the filing of the parties' briefs and after any oral arguments, the case awaits the decision of the Appellate Court.  The Court will decide the case by issuing an "opinion," which is a discussion of the legal issues raised by the parties and the Court's resolution of those issues.  On the basis of those issues, the Appellate Court will decide whether to "affirm" or "reverse" the judgment of the Trial Court.  If the Court affirms the Trial Court's judgment, the conviction is upheld.  If the Appellate Court reverses the Trial Court, then the conviction is overturned, and the case is remanded (meaning the Trial Court must release, retry, or resentence the offender, or revise the conviction).  Depending on the specific legal issues raised in the appeal, the Appellate Court may modify the conviction or sentence.
  5. Petition to Rehearing/Transfer - If the appeal was first heard by the Court of Appeals, the losing party may petition that Court to rehear the case, pointing out errors in the opinion.  This is knowns as a "Petition for Rehearing."  A party who loses the rehearing may ask the Supreme Court to take the case if specific grounds are present.  This is known as a "Petition to Transfer."  The Supreme Court's decision on transfter, either by denying the transfter or by taking and deciding the case, is final.  The Supreme Court takes very few Petition to Transfer cases.
Additional Types of Reviews and Appeals
After the Direct Appeal stage is completed, or if a Direct Appeal was not pursued, offenders may have convictions and sentences reviewed a second time.  This is knowns as a "Petition for Post-Conviction Relief" or "PCR Petition."  A PCR Petition is filed in the Trial Court that originally convicted and sentenced the offender.  This Petition basically asks the Trial Judge for a new trial based on constitutional errors that allegedly occurred at trial.
 
Once the Supreme Court has decided a case, either by refusing to hear the case or by issuing an opinion on the legal issues raised in an appeal, this stage of the Appellate Process is complete. 
The following web links may be helpful in providing more information related to the Appellate Process: