Intermediate Appellate Court in the United States
An appeals court structurally located between trial courts and a court of last resort. The jurisdiction and organization of intermediate appellate courts varies from state to state. Typically, these courts review decisions from the general jurisdiction trial courts and specified administrative agencies. A number of states have only one intermediate court, while others, generally the larger states and the federal government, separate their intermediate courts geographically into regions or districts. The federal intermediate appellate court, the U.S. court of appeals, is divided regionally into units known as circuits. There is also some variation in the jurisdiction of the intermediate courts. Some states, for example, authorize one intermediate court to review civil cases, while another hears criminal appeals. The entire membership of an intermediate appeals court may review a case, in which case the court sits en banc. More often, however, judges are assigned to panels of three for the review of individual cases.
Analysis and Relevance
Intermediate appellate courts have been established to reduce the volume of cases seeking review by courts of last resort. It was to unburden the Supreme Court that Congress established the U.S. court of appeals in 1891. The jurisdiction of most intermediate courts is mandatory; they have no discretion over the cases they review. In the United States, litigants are entitled to one round of appeal. Making review mandatory is intended to satisfy this obligation at the intermediate level. Indigent criminal defendants wishing to exercise the right to one appeal are entitled to assistance of counsel at this level. Establishment of intermediate courts has reduced Supreme Court caseloads, but only modestly and typically not for the long term. Rather, after a period of time, the presence of a new intermediate court tends to prompt the filing of more appeals.