While most people have some general understanding of the process that occurs in a trial, appeals are far different and the entire process is not generally reflected on television or by the general experience of the public. In this blog, the four cornerstones of an appeal are identified and addressed. The more you understand about any the process, the better able you will be to aid your attorneys in helping you make the best appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals.1
The first and most important part of an appeal—and what allows the appeal itself—is “the record”. The record is generally a typed, word-for-word, witness-by-witness account of what was said at trial, capturing objections and admissions of documentary (exhibits) evidence. This is the entirety of what can be argued about on appeal. In other words, if the testimony or exhibit was not admitted, it cannot be argued on appeal—and the Court of Appeals cannot provide any relief for the appellant.2
Secondly, the best factual record presented by the most skilled attorney has little chance of reversal or relief on appeal if not supported by the law. For example, a claim self-defense probably has little chance of being successful to a murder conviction if the defendant has made a video or journal plotting his or her plan to murder the victim, which is admitted into the evidence.
In other words, the affirmative defense of self-defense is unlikely to result in reversal on appeal because it is not supported by self-defense. A related concept is most law in Indiana is set by statute. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court apply and interpret statutes and this too is a source of law, namely caselaw.3 Finally, where there is no support for a position, a change in the law can be argued on appeal, if made and preserved in the trial court.
The intersection of the record facts and law is contained in the third pillar of each appeal—the issue or issues. In many, if not most cases, there are multiple legal decisions made by a trial court (or jury) in deciding a case. How those issues are drafted and stated in the appeal must be objective, not argumentative. At the same time, the issue must be set forth in such a way as to highlight the alleged error and its magnitude so it speaks to the unfairness of the ruling. This is a skill developed my appellate attorneys over the course of years and multiple appellate briefs. In other words, the issue on appeal must state the key facts and weigh the decision is not supported by the law, highlighting its significance.
With all of this set forth, the remainder or final part of an appeal focuses on the analysis of how the facts and laws applicable to the issue show it was decided wrongly and support the relief requested. This is the bulk of most pages of an appeal. An appeal is done by preparing a paper booklet and writing out these pillars (but not in these terms), ultimately drawing a conclusion for reversal or other relief by the Court of Appeals. Here the issue will be followed by the controlling laws and references to the factual record to show the judgment, such as by a judge is erroneous.
These pillars of an appeal are where appellate lawyers spend their work life. We hope this blog has helped you understand the appellate process and be a better legal consumer and more informed citizen about Indiana’s responsive and available Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court. This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle appeals of the final order from all Indiana counties, including those from federal courts to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and United States Supreme Court. This blog is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- A few appeals proceed directly to the Indiana Supreme Court.
- There are exceptions, such as if the lack of a record was caused by ineffective assistance of counsel.
- Constitutional provisions and administrative regulations also come into play in some cases.