The Constitution of the State of Indiana is divided into three branches: the executive the legislative and the judicial. The judicial power of the state is vested in the apex court, the circuit courts and other tribunals at various rungs of the judicial ladder.
The past and present of the Indiana state judiciary
Comprising of three nudges, the first court in the state was established in 1800; since then the judicial network has evolved into a sophisticated and complex system that involves several tribunals at various levels which serve different functions and almost 600 judicial officers who hear a whopping 1.8 million cases every year.
The judicial system of Indiana
The courts of the state can be divided into two primary levels: the appellate and the trial court. All tribunals are segregated into these two categories. For instance, the Supreme Court of Indiana along with the Indiana Tax Court and the Court of Appeals of the State are all appellate level tribunals. For the better part, these courts only handle cases that have already been heard by the trial courts.
A person who has lost a case in the trial court will usually appeal to the appellate court to reconsider the matter because they wish to challenge the verdict of the lower tribunal. Trial courts are further bifurcated into three classes: circuit courts, superior courts and local, city or town tribunals. While trial courts have different names, their natures and purposes are almost the same.
The trial courts of Indiana
Circuit courts: The General Assembly divided the state into circuits based on the geographical bounds of various counties. Of the 92 counties, 90 have their own circuit hence their own circuit courts while the two smaller divisions of Ohio and Dearborn have been combined into one circuit. So, in all, the state has 91 circuit courts. These tribunals hear civil as well as criminal matters and continue to have unlimited trial jurisdiction.
In counties that do not have superior courts, the circuit tribunals are also entrusted the responsibility of hearing small cases such as civil litigations involving a dispute amount of less than $6000 and minor infraction cases related to Class D felonies, ordinance offenses and misdemeanors. Circuit courts also have appellate jurisdiction to rule in matters that stem from city and town level tribunals.
Superior Courts: As requirements for trial courts grew, the General Assembly created additional tribunals called superior courts. In fact, these tribunals make up for the majority of the trial courts in the state and almost all counties have superior tribunals apart from the circuit court. These tribunals have general jurisdiction, so they hear civil as well as criminal cases and they are also charged with establishing division for handling small claims and minor offense cases.
City/Town courts: These tribunals are at the last level of the judicial system; at the moment, the state has 47 city courts and 28 town courts. These tribunals handle minor cases such as civic violations, traffic offenses and misdemeanors. Because these tribunals are not record courts, that is their proceedings are not recorded in the dockets, an appeal from these tribunals when taken to the superior or circuit court is treated as if it has never been heard before.
Although all counties in the state of Indiana follow this generic judicial hierarchy, Marion is the only geographical division to have a distinct small claims tribunal while St Joseph County has a specialized probate court which retains juvenile jurisdiction. Together, these tribunals hear family, civil, juvenile, corporate and criminal matters. Of all the cases that are brought before the judiciary in the state, nearly 80% are civil cases.