Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Do You Know About Indiana Courts?

Indiana has two broad types of courts:  trial courts and appellate courts.  The appellate courts mean the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court.

Trial courts mean either Circuit Courts or Superior Courts.  The difference between the two is that the Indiana Constitution created Circuit Courts:

Section 7. Judicial Circuits. The State shall, from time to time, be divided into judicial circuits; and a Judge for each circuit shall be elected by the voters thereof. He shall reside within the circuit and shall have been duly admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of Indiana; he shall hold his office for the term of six years, if he so long behaves well.
(History: As Amended November 3, 1970).
Section 8. Circuit Courts. The Circuit Courts shall have such civil and criminal jurisdiction as may be prescribed by law.
(History: As Amended November 3, 1970).

The Indiana General Assembly created the Superior Courts.

The following sets out the powers of the Indiana Circuit Courts:
Sec. 2. (a) The circuit court has original jurisdiction in all civil cases and in all criminal cases, except where exclusive jurisdiction is conferred by law upon other courts of the same territorial jurisdiction.
(b) The circuit court also has the appellate jurisdiction that may be conferred by law upon it.
As added by P.L.98-2004, SEC.7.

And here the General Assembly set out the powers of our Superior Courts at IC 33-29-1-4:
Sec. 4. The judge of a standard superior court:
(1) has the same powers relating to the conduct of business of the court as the judge of the circuit court of the county in which the standard superior court is located; and
(2) may administer oaths, solemnize marriages, and take and certify acknowledgments of deeds.
As added by P.L.98-2004, SEC.8.

No practical difference exists between the two.  Notice that both courts have criminal jurisdiction. Criminal cases take precedence when it comes to scheduling cases and they will be heard by the judge.  Which may make clear why most family law cases are not heard by the elected judge but by a commissioner appointed by the judge.

A few counties have created family courts.  However, it does not appear that these family law courts are separate courts but a program in addition to the court's general jurisdiction.  (This is based on my knowledge of Henry County and extrapolating to the other counties listed as having family courts).

None of the above applies to juvenile courts which have jurisdiction over paternity cases.   Marion County is the only county I am aware of that has a court denominated for paternity cases only  Even then it is part of the Marion County Circuit Court and commissioners preside over the actual court hearings. In other counties, the juvenile court is but a part of a court's regular jurisdiction which means in addition to its civil and/or criminal jurisdiction.  In Madison County, Superior Court 2 is our juvenile court and hears all juvenile criminal cases, CHINS cases, regular civil suits, paternity cases, and dissolution of marriage cases.

The Indiana Supreme Court maintains a Know Your Indiana Courts page that provides more detailed information on how Indiana structures its courts.  You may also want to check out Indiana Code 33-33 which sets out how the Indiana General Assembly organizes the courts in each of our 92 counties.

I will be following this up on the 19th with What Do You Know About Indiana Courts? Part 2.

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