Appellate Process

The Indiana Supreme Court is the exclusive interpreter of disputed cases brought to appeal in criminal appeals involving the sentence of death or life without parole, in appeals in which a statute has been declared unconstitutional, in appeals involving waiver of parental consent to abortion, and in appeals involving mandate of funds. In addition, the Supreme Court may review the decisions of the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Tax Court.

The issues that come to the Supreme Court may relate to a great variety of circumstances, and affect property rights, the liberty of individuals, search and seizure of criminal evidence, or the broader public rights that stem from the common law or laws enacted by the General Assembly.

The route to the Supreme Court begins in the local trial courts. These courts have what is known as "original jurisdiction" and this is where the issues that eventually come to the Supreme Court are first tested in either criminal or civil actions. In these courts, each side to a dispute or criminal case presents evidence and arguments. Local judges or juries decide if an accused criminal defendant is found guilty or not guilty. In civil cases, the judge decides which side should prevail in the dispute before the court.

Whenever the trial court has come to a conclusion on all the issues in a case, the parties to the dispute must determine whether they should accept the decision or exercise the right to appeal to a higher court. In all civil cases and all criminal cases except where a sentence of death or life without parole has been entered, a party first appeals to the Indiana Court of Appeals, or to the Tax Court in tax-related cases. If either party wishes to challenge the Court of Appeals' decision, it asks the Indiana Supreme Court to take the case by filing a Petition to Transfer Jurisdiction from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may then decide to accept the case. If it accepts the case (which is called "granting transfer"), the Supreme Court will review the documents and record submitted to the Court of Appeals and may also hear oral arguments on the case. Thereafter, the Supreme Court may issue a written order or opinion that upholds or overrules the decision of the lower court and states the reasoning behind its decision. In some cases, it may order new a trial and provide guidance on how to avoid the trial error that sparked the appeal.