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Why Are Legal Appeals So Difficult to Win?

Why Are Legal Appeals So Difficult to Win?

“We’ll get ‘em on appeal!” Sounds like a legal pep talk from a TV show, doesn’t it? While it’s true that someone who loses their court case – be it a civil or criminal trial, a trial by jury, or a bench trial decided by a judge – has a right to appeal the decision, it’s hardly a slam dunk they will prevail at the appellate court level. Here’s why legal appeals in Indiana are so difficult to win, and some considerations for how to win an appeal:

The Process for Appeals in Indiana

Generally, a party has 30 days after a Final Judgment has been entered into the Chronological Case Summary, to appeal. The appeal is initiated by filing a Notice of Appeal with the Court Clerk. If not filed within this 30-day period, the right to appeal is usually forfeited.

Once an appeal is filed, the facts of the case are generally agreed upon, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana may not decline to consider it. However, the appellate court will not initiate a new trial or hearing; nor will it hear new evidence. It will, rather, review the case record which includes the lower court’s decision, as well as briefs – written accounts of the case facts, legal arguments, and the request for relief – submitted by both parties in the case. The three appellate judges (from a slate of 15) may request oral arguments.

Once the materials have been reviewed by each judge and any oral arguments heard, the three-judge panel will meet and consider the appeal. A ruling can often take weeks or months to be handed down.

The Case Has Already Been Heard

Perhaps the first and hardest hurdle to overcome when determining how to win an appeal is the fact that the case has already been heard. While this is obvious at its core and might seem to be of little consequence since the initial ruling was unacceptable to the losing party, it is an incredibly important standard for appellate law. Why? It goes to the level of respect granted lower court judges. Thus, appellate court judges will approach each appeal with the understanding that a respected judge at the lower court level has presided fairly, applied applicable law, and ruled with “blind justice” neutrality.

Must-Have Grounds for an Appeal

Of course, for an appeal to have any chance of being upheld (that is, for the initial lower court case ruling to be set aside, overturned, or remanded to the lower court for retrial), it must be presented with sufficient grounds for appeal. This, too, can be a tremendous hurdle. The baseline standard, according to the Indiana Courts branch of state government, is that an appeal asking for the reversal of a lower court ruling must be undertaken “based on a matter of Indiana law.”

In other words, for an appeal to succeed, the grounds for appeal must be supported by applicable Indiana law. These grounds could include discovery of a legal error, often either an error in the legal process itself or in the basis for the lower court’s rendered judgment. Of course, Indiana law is complex and can sometimes seem contradictory. This creates potential grounds for appeal if it can be argued that the lower court applied the wrong law or that a different law could have applied. Appeals like these, based on a question of law, tend to be among those most likely to be upheld and the lower court judgment overturned.

Other grounds for appeals in Indiana that might be somewhat likely to succeed include the discovery of new and relevant evidence which may have come to light after the conclusion of the trial or in the details of the judge’s ruling. Still other legitimate grounds for appeal might stem from the unfair application of outdated laws or a possible infringement of constitutional rights during the case.

Standard of Review

Another key hurdle for appeals in Indiana is the “standard of review.” This is the amount of deference ascribed by the appellate court in weighing the decision of the lower court. When a high standard of review is applied, the appellate court will likely not overturn or set aside the lower court ruling even if the appellate court would have ruled otherwise in the initial case. Such an “abuse of discretion” standard would require an obvious error in the application of law for the appeal to be upheld and the case remanded to the lower court.

On the other hand, the standard of review that represents the best-case scenario and best chance for successful appeal is a de novo standard of review. Under this type of review, the appellate court undertakes consideration of the appeal independent of the lower court ruling to determine the proper outcome of the case based on the case facts. Also called a plenary review, this standard is based on grounds of “questions of law” or legal errors in the initial case.

The standards of review that apply in the Indiana appellate court system can be complex. Therefore, it is advisable to engage the counsel of qualified appellate lawyers such as the attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C.

Key Takeaways:

Why are legal appeals in Indiana so difficult to win? Simply put, the case has already been heard and ruled on; sufficient grounds must be presented, and the standard of review at the appellate court can influence the likely outcome. Here are some crucial factors when considering how to win an appeal in Indiana:

  • Any losing party in an Indiana lower court case has the legal right to file an appeal and the Court of Appeals of Indiana may not decline to consider it
  • Generally, the appeal must be filed within 30 days after the Final Judgment
  • The appellate court will not initiate a new trial or hearing; nor will it hear new evidence; it will consider the appeal based on the facts of the case already presented at the lower court level
  • The initial hurdle to overcome when seeking to have a court ruling overturned on appeal is the fact that the case has already been heard by a judge
  • Grounds for appeal of a lower court judgment must be “based on a matter of Indiana law”
  • Discovery of new evidence after the trial or a misapplication of law as discovered in the ruling may also be grounds for appeal
  • “Standards of review” influence the ways appellate courts consider and rule on appeals; these can run the gamut from a high “abuse of discretion” standard to the more appellant-friendly “de novo” standard

Appealing a lower court ruling requires a vast knowledge of the law and the appellate court system. At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., our attorneys draw on decades of collective experience handling Indiana appeals and practice throughout the state in all Indiana appellate courts. To learn more about how to win an appeal, contact us today at 972-8000.

This blog post provides general educational material about how to win an appeal in the Indiana Court of Appeals. Being an educated legal consumer can help you make the most of the legal experience in meeting your legal objectives. This information is presented by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who practice throughout the State of Indiana. It is not a solicitation, nor is it intended to provide specific legal advice. It is an advertisement. Information contained herein is subject to change.


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