What is appellate practice, and do law firms, such as Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., differ in the way they write appeals?
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., we have multiple appeal cases pending at any one given time. One type of appeal that is not normally thought of as “appeals” are from administrative proceedings, such as a zoning board decision, to a decision of the Indiana State Police after an administrative hearing, to deny a License to Carry a Handgun. We handle these administrative appeals, which sometimes go to an Indiana trial court for hearing, although they do at times wind up in Indiana’s formal appellate courts.
The most common civil or criminal appeals from state trial courts is to the Indiana Court of Appeals. This Court is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, along with the Indiana Supreme Court; it is one of the most efficient intermediate state courts in the United States and quickly decides cases. As a general rule, there is an automatic right to appeal to this Court from any adverse Indiana trial court decision. This does not mean that an appeal should be taken from a sound decision of an Indiana trial court, nor are appeals that common relative to all final appealable orders issued by trial courts.
Except for a minor category of cases, the Indiana Supreme Court (the highest court in Indiana) is an appeal by permission, which means it has to agree with a majority of justices to accept any case for consideration by this Court. In other words, there is generally not an automatic right to have this Court hear your case. Many of the cases the Indiana Supreme Court accepts address decisions by the Court of Appeals that had a split (not unanimous) decisions, or cases of greater public interest.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. has reported cases in criminal and civil law in both of these higher courts. Further, in cases that are unique, the Indiana Court of Appeals sometimes grants requests for oral argument. This is where the attorneys appear before three judges who will be deciding the case (called the writing panel) and argues the merits of the case and a change in the law if that is the issue. In a majority of cases the Indiana Supreme Court accepts transfer on, it holds an oral argument. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys have made oral arguments before these Courts.
Assuming a party has petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to grant transfer, whether granted or not, there is sometimes the right to appeal to and through the federal courts. Although rare, the most common is a Petition for Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Typically, after denial of transfer or decision by the Indiana Supreme Court, there is a right to file a Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court within 90 days. The United States Supreme Court takes very few cases, so it is a unique case that makes it to that level. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. has sought Certiorari.
With regard to cases in federal trial courts, known as the United States District Courts for the Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana, there is a right to appeal any civil or criminal conviction to the 7th Circuit of Appeals located in Chicago, Illinois. From there, there is a right to seek Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle appeals in the 7th Circuit.
In all of these higher courts, the case is handled by written briefs or mini-books filed with the Court and not by a trial. These higher courts review what a trial court decided. If it comes down to just re-weighing facts, these higher courts give considerable deference to the trial courts. However, if a trial court makes a mistake of law, such as in applying the law, these higher courts do not give discretion to the trial court, but review the questions de novo, and are more likely to reverse the case for relief.
Ultimately, an appeal is your story based on the trial in a written mini-book. Appellate attorneys are in many respects storytellers to help paint your legal matter into the written word. Other than a few broad appellate rules, there are many ways to paint the picture. Thus, it is sometimes helpful to review briefs and prior decisions of the firms you are considering for your appeal, to get a feel for whether that is how you would want your story to be presented. There is no specific right or wrong way to do so, but making the best argument the way you agree with goes a long way toward accepting the result if you do not prevail, since finality is an important part of the legal system as is moving on in life after an appeal.
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