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Indiana Court Structure
Transcript of Indiana Court Structure
admission to the practice of law;
discipline and disbarment of those admitted;unauthorized practice of law;
discipline, removal and retirement of judges;
supervision of the exercise of jurisdiction by other courts;
issuance of writs necessary in aid of its jurisdiction;
appeals from judgments imposing a sentence of death;
appeals from the denial of post-conviction relief in which the sentence was death;
appeal-able cases where a state or federal statute has been declared unconstitutional; and
on petition, cases involving substantial questions of law, great public importance, or emergency.
The Supreme Court has the power to review and revise sentences imposed by lower courts. Before Indiana became a state in 1816, it was part of the Indiana Territory (Illinois and Ohio were also a part of this Territory). The first court in the Indiana Territory was the General Court made up of three judges appointed by the governor of the Indiana Territory. These judges, along with the governor, wrote the laws for the Indiana Territory. When Indiana became a state in 1816, the Indiana Supreme Court was created out of the General Court. The new court met in the first state capital of Corydon in southern Indiana near the Ohio River on May 5, 1817. It was the governor's responsibility to appoint the Court's three judges to seven-year terms.
When Indiana adopted a new constitution in 1851, the responsibility for selecting Supreme Court judges was given to the people instead of the governor. That is, the people elected the judges to serve six-year terms. The 1851 constitution also said that three to five judges should sit on the Indiana Supreme Court, instead of only three as under the old system.
In 1970 the voters adopted a sweeping amendment that almost completely rewrote the parts of the 1851 constitution relating to courts. One of the biggest changes made by the amendment was that judges on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals would no longer be elected. Instead of elections, the amendment established that the governor, using the recommendations of a special committee, would once again appoint the Supreme Court justices. After a justice serves two years, the people of Indiana vote on whether or not the justice should stay on the Supreme Court. If the voters vote yes, then the justice stays on the court for ten more years. Once every ten years the people of Indiana vote on whether or not to keep a justice on the appellate court. Another change was to call members of the Supreme Court "justices" instead of judges. As the second-highest court in Indiana, the Court of Appeals hears appeals from the state’s trial courts. The Court does not preside over trials and must accept all appeals sent to it, with the exception of:
Cases in which the death penalty or life-without-parole is rendered (appealed directly to the Indiana Supreme Court);
Cases in which statutes are declared unconstitutional by a trial court (automatically appealed to the Supreme Court);
Attorney disciplinary cases (which also go to the Supreme Court); and,
Cases involving taxation (which go to the Indiana Tax Court).
As a result, the 15 members of the Court issue approximately 2,500 written opinions each year. A decision of the Court of Appeals of Indiana is final unless granted further review by the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana Court of Appeals The Court hears cases only in three-judge panels. All panels have statewide jurisdiction and rotate three times per year. Cases are randomly assigned. In addition, there is no deadline for the Court to reach a decision in each case; however, the Court strives to issue decisions within four months of receiving an appeal. Opinions are often issued earlier.
All opinions are available on the Courts website. Some opinions are “for publication” and can be cited as precedent for subsequent case; other are marked “NFP” or “not for publication,” and may not be used in citing precedent. City and town courts may be created by local ordinance (local law). Currently there are forty-seven city courts and twenty-eight town courts in Indiana. Plainfield, Avon, Carmel, and Jamestown are just a few examples of cities and towns that have city/town courts. City and town courts handle minor offenses such as violations of city ordinances (laws), misdemeanors, and infractions. These courts commonly handle traffic matters. City and town courts are not courts of record (their proceedings are not recorded), so appeals from city and town courts go to the circuit or superior courts and are decided as if they have never been to court before. Did you know that with some exceptions, the city and town court judges are not required to be attorneys? City/Town Courts As local needs grew and more trial courts became necessary, the Indiana General Assembly created additional courts called superior courts. The majority of Indiana trial courts are superior courts and almost all Indiana counties have superior courts in addition to their circuit court.
For the most part, superior courts have general jurisdiction, so they can hear ALL civil and criminal cases. Superior courts are also charged with establishing small claims and minor offense divisions. Superior Courts Circuit courts are the only trial courts mentioned in the Indiana Constitution, but the Constitution did not create circuit courts. The 1851 Constitution granted the General Assembly the power to create circuit courts. The General Assembly divided Indiana into circuits, based on county lines. Each county in Indiana has at least one circuit court. Indiana has 92 counties, and 90 of these counties comprise their own circuit, with their own circuit court. The remaining two small counties (Ohio and Dearborn Counties) have been combined to form one circuit. Circuit Courts Unlimited trial jurisdiction in all cases, except when exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction is conferred upon other courts.
Appellate jurisdiction over appeals from city and town courts. Trial jurisdiction and organization varies from county to county.
Appellate jurisdiction over appeals from city and town courts.