Remember, most Indiana appeals start in the Court of Appeals. Once the Clerk of the Courts sends all of the appropriate documents to the Court of Appeals Office of Administration, that office assigns each case to one of the court's 15 judges. The judge assigned to the case is called the writing judge. He or she will write the opinion for the three-judge panel. Once the case is assigned, the writing judge reviews the trial court record and the briefs filed by the parties. After reviewing the case, the writing judge researches the law in Indiana and begins writing the opinion of the court.
After the writing judge finishes a draft of the opinion, it is reviewed and voted on by the other two judges on the panel. An opinion only needs to be agreed upon by two of the three judges on the panel. As in the Supreme Court, sometimes one of the other judges may write a concurring or dissenting opinion.
If the writing judge feels the other two judges on the panel may not agree with his or her opinion, the writing judge might call for a conference so they can discuss the issues of the case before writing an opinion. After the conference, if the judges still feel there are issues that need further explanation, they may schedule an oral argument. Remember, an oral argument is an opportunity for lawyers to speak to the judges and try to persuade the court that they should change the decision of the lower court.
Because the Court of Appeals hears so many cases (remember everyone has the right to an appeal before the Court of Appeals) only a small number of their cases are scheduled for oral arguments. Most appeals before the court are decided from the lawyers' briefs and the judges' analysis of those materials and studying the law on the subject. Sometimes the Court of Appeals schedules oral arguments for educational purposes. If the judges feel a case is about an issue that would be educational for students, they will schedule an oral argument to take place in a high school or possibly a law school. The Court of Appeals sometimes holds their oral arguments in the Supreme Court's courtroom so that they can be broadcast over the Internet. After oral arguments, the three-judge panel reaches a decision about the case, and the writing judge writes the opinion of the court.
The appellate court has to decide whether to affirm (agree with) or reverse (overturn) the judgment of the trial court. If the court affirms the trial court's judgment, the decision of the trial court is left alone. There is no change. But what happens if they don't agree? If the Court of Appeals judges disagree with the decision of the trial court in a criminal case, several things can happen. Sometimes the court remands, sends the case back, to the trial judge with specific instructions. For example, the appellate judges might tell the trial court judge to hold a whole new trial. Another option the appellate court has is to make changes in the trial court's decision or the sentence. The court might, for example, reduce the number of years the defendant will spend in prison.
Civil cases are handled a little differently. If the appellate court reverses the decision in a civil case, the judgment is usually just changed to favor the person who originally lost at trial. If the appellate court sends it back to the trial court level, it may be to correct a mistake or to take a new look at the amount of damages, usually money that was awarded.
When someone loses in the Court of Appeals and feels there were specific errors in the Court of Appeals decision, they can ask the Court of Appeals to hear the case again in a petition for rehearing. The petition for rehearing points out the mistakes in the court's opinion and asks the judges to reconsider their decision. If the Court of Appeals does not agree to the request, the losing party can then ask the Indiana Supreme Court to review the case.