Appeals: Kansas Supreme Court

Next in Morefield Speicher Bachman’s series on law for non-lawyers, is a discussion about appeals in Kansas.  This article will look at what the appellate courts do and the differences between the two levels of appellate courts.

On March 9, 2016, Kansas residents will get the opportunity to attend a session of the Kansas Supreme Court at historic Topeka High School.  The Court will hear oral arguments in several cases followed by an informal reception to meet the public.  For more information about the special Kansas Supreme Court evening session at Topeka High School, visit the Court’s website.  This is a great opportunity for students with an interest in the law and for the general public to see the Kansas Supreme Court in action.

How Do Cases Get to the Kansas Supreme Court?

There are two levels of appellate courts in Kansas – the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Despite what many people think, the parties to a lawsuit do not have the ability to appeal every decision made by a lower court.

After a trial, if one of the parties believes that the District Court made an error of law that affected the outcome of the case, that party can file an appeal in the Kansas Court of Appeals. The appealing party files a document called a Notice of Appeal. Each party then files a brief explaining their position in the case to the Court of Appeals.  After the briefs have been filed, the Court of Appeals schedules an oral argument, usually before a panel of three judges.

At the oral argument, each party typically has 15 minutes to present their case although the Court will permit up to 30 minutes per side in special cases. In most cases, the appellate judges will pepper the lawyers with questions about the case and about the law. This process allows the Court to clarify the positions of the parties and to explore the ramifications of any decision they make.

The Kansas Court of Appeals hears most appeals from the trial courts with the exception of certain cases involving certain constitutional questions or questions relating to certain major felonies. The parties in a case that has been tried in the trial court have a right to appeal errors of law to the Kansas Court of Appeals.  The Kansas Supreme Court has jurisdiction over appeals involving the death sentence, cases where a statute was declared unconstitutional, and discretionary review of cases that were decided by the Court of Appeals. The parties to a civil case do not have a right to have their case heard by the Kansas Supreme Court, even if they are unhappy with the outcome at the Court of Appeals.  The parties can request review by the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court determines which cases it will hear.