Appellate Courts: Indiana Court of Appeals

Court of Appeals Seal

The Indiana Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court. It handles appeals between the trial court and Indiana Supreme Court. However, there hasn't always been an Indiana Court of Appeals.


The Court of Appeals was first started to help deal with the growing caseload of the Indiana Supreme Court. In 1891, the General Assembly passed laws to create a temporary appellate court to help with the overflow of appellate cases in the Supreme Court. No real difference was made between the Supreme Court and the Appellate Court; the Appellate Court was simply handling the overflow cases from the Supreme Court. This appellate court was expected to last for about six years, but in 1897 the General Assembly voted to keep the court for an additional four years. Because the number of cases kept growing, the appellate court became a permanent part of the judicial branch in 1901. When the appellate court became permanent, its job began to change to an intermediate appellate court, where cases would first come before reaching the Indiana Supreme Court.

In 1972, the appellate court was replaced with today's Court of Appeals through an amendment to the Indiana Constitution. The voters of Indiana approved the amendment on November 3, 1970, and the Indiana Court of Appeals began hearing cases on January 1, 1972. Today, many people don't even remember that the Court of Appeals was ever anything but an intermediate court.

Court of Appeals Jurisdiction

The Court of Appeals has no original jurisdiction except as authorized by Supreme Court rules to review directly final decisions of certain administrative agencies. It has jurisdiction over all appeals not taken to the Supreme Court.

[Sources: Indiana Constitution, Article 7, Section 6 ; Indiana Rules of Court, Appellate Rule 4(B)]

What is the Job of the Indiana Court of Appeals?

The Court of Appeals receives appeals directly from the trial courts throughout Indiana and can interpret and decide questions of law raised by these appeals. The Court of Appeals hears many more cases than the Indiana Supreme Court. This is because it must hear every appeal from the trial courts except those that go directly to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals determines if errors occurred in a trial. If the Court decides that an error occurred, it then has to decide if the error was serious enough to require a new trial.

The Court usually does not review a case until the trial is over. Sometimes, however, the party in a trial might ask the Court a question in the middle of a trial. Imagine, for example, that you and your friends were playing baseball. You think that a batter gets three strikes before they are out, and your friend thinks it is four. You stop your game, consult the rulebook, and then go back to the game once you know the correct rule. This is similar to how the Court of Appeals might answer a question in the middle of a trial.

In addition to appeals of criminal and civil cases from the trial courts, the Court of Appeals also reviews decisions of special state government groups, such as the Worker's Compensation Board (these are the people who make decisions about workers who get hurt at work), the Department of Workforce Development (this agency helps employers and employees with job training and administers the unemployment insurance program), and the Utility Regulatory Commission (utility companies provide gas, electricity, and water to us). For example, if your teacher got hurt while putting up a new bulletin board, he or she might file a claim with the Worker's Compensation Board. If he or she was unhappy with the board's decision, your teacher could appeal that decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals

How Many Judges Sit on the Indiana Court of Appeals?

When the Court of Appeals was created, the General Assembly established three districts for it--one for the northern third, the central third, and the southern third. Three judges appointed from each district made up the nine judges that served on the original court. As you can see, however, the Court of Appeals handles a huge number of cases. So, new districts were established, and the number of judges on the Court of Appeals increased. Currently, there are five districts in Indiana with three judges from each district, making a total of fifteen judges. One of these judges is chosen to be chief judge and serves in that position for three years. The Court of Appeals judges are not required to live in the district after they are appointed, but they must have lived there before the appointment.

The fifteen judges are divided into groups called panels. There are five panels of three judges each. A panel of judges serves together for four months at a time. Three times a year the judges rotate to a new panel. Though the Court of Appeals judges represent different districts within Indiana, each panel of judges has statewide jurisdiction.

The same Judicial Nominating Commission that recommends justices to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court also suggests judges to serve on the Court of Appeals. The same process is followed and the same rules apply.

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