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Appeals: A Second Chance

The Minnesota Court of Appeals is an important part of the judicial process that offers the Minnesotans efficient (ideally) and careful review of appealable decisions of the trial courts, state agencies, and local governments.

There are exceptions, which go directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Appeals from the Minnesota Tax Court, the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals, first-degree murder cases, and statewide election contests are each types of cases that bypass the intermediate Court of Appeals level and proceed directly to the MN Supreme Court.

The purpose of the Court of Appeals is to correct the errors of the trial courts. The Court of Appeals is responsible for almost all of the appeals. The Minnesota Supreme Court would be overwhelmed if it needed to review this entire docket of appeals, so the Court of Appeals plays an extremely important role in the justice system. The burden borne by the Court of Appeals allows the Supreme Court to focus its energy on deciding the more difficult constitutional and public policy cases.

Most cases end at the Court of Appeals, whose decisions become the final ruling in as many as 95 percent of the appeals that are filed each year. This leaves a small percentage (about 5%) that the Supreme Court decides in a year.

There are three types of opinions issued by the Court of Appeals: published, unpublished, and order opinions. Every case that comes through the appellate system is decided and has an opinion issued.

The caseload for each appellate judge amounts to about three hundred cases per year. Furthermore, the judges are also responsible for hundreds of special term opinions and orders on motions and petitions filed with the court.

By law, the court must issue a decision within no more than ninety days after oral arguments. In appeals that do not include oral argument, then decisions are due within ninety days after the scheduled conference date. The ninety days is the shortest deadline imposed on any appellate court in the United States. Even more quickly, the court rushes opinions in child custody cases, mental health commitments, and other matters where the parties request expedited decisions.

The Court of Appeals consists of three-judge panels, which travel around the state to hear appeals. The Supreme Court sits en banc to decide all of its cases as a whole (except when a judge recuses him- or herself in a particular case). Oral arguments are open to the public.

The appellate system uses an electronic case management system, which is supposed to promote a speedier resolution and prevent needless delays in resolving cases and issuing decisions.

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