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How Does The New York Court of Appeals Work?

The New York State judiciary has a hierarchical structure with the New York Court of Appeals at the apex. Cases are normally channeled to the Court of Appeals from the intermediate appellate courts, but in cases where a trial court has imposed a death sentence, the law mandates direct appeal to the Court of Appeals, bypassing the appellate divisions. The Court of Appeals exerts original and exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the validity of US treaty or statute, New York statute or constitution, as well as cases involving revenue laws, titles of state offices, and criminal cases where there is capital punishment.

The New York Court of Appeals has discretionary jurisdiction over writs of certiorari as well as in cases relating to the New York State Revenue, writs of mandamus, prohibition, or habeas corpus. This means that the Court of Appeals retains the right to grant or deny these writ petitions and cross petitions.

Also within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals are appeals of decisions reached by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is responsible for reviewing allegations of misconduct brought against court judges.

Appeals taken from the four Appellate Division departments are rarely appeals of right. In most cases, appeals brought to the Court of Appeals are appeals of permission. Appellants must obtain permission or leave to appeal from the Court of Appeals or the Appellate Division itself. In civil cases, the Court of Appeals or the Appellate Division panel cast votes on petitions for leave of appeal. However, single judges grant or deny leave of appeals in criminal cases. Also, certain appellate decisions made by the county courts or the Appellate Terms in some criminal cases may also be appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, either by permission or of right.

In certain cases, an appeal may be taken straight from the trial court (court of first instance) to the Court of Appeals, without first passing through the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Such appeals are authorized from civil verdicts where the only case is a matter of the constitutionality of a federal or state statute.

Criminal appeals can only bypass the intermediate appellate courts in matters where a death sentence is imposed. However, this provision has been pointless since the state invalidated the New York death-penalty law.

Decisions from the Court of Appeals are binding authority on all lower courts and persuasive authority for itself in later cases.[1] Every opinion, memorandum, and motion of the Court of Appeals sent to the New York State Reporter is required to be published in the New York Reports.

Essentially, the Court of Appeals’ decisions are binding on all lower courts and can also serve as persuasive arguments in later cases. Appeals from the New York Court of Appeals are directed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) guides the legal procedure such as venue, jurisdiction, and pleadings, as well as some areas of substantive law such as the statute of limitations.

The New York Court of Appeals comprises the chief Judge and six justices (seven in total). These judges sit in Albany and decide on cases brought before the court. The Governor of New York is responsible for appointing judges of the Court of Appeals on the advice/consent of the state senate and recommendation of the Commission of Judicial Nomination. These judges serve 14-year terms after which re-elections are common.

Among the duties of the Chief Judge is responsible for establishing standards and administrative policies to guide the court. The Chief Judge supervises the Court of Appeals and also appoints the Chief Administrative Judge (Chief Administrator). The Chief Judge achieves this with the consent and advice of the Administrative Board. The Chief Administrator serves to oversee the day-to-day operation and administration of the court with the assistance of the Office of Court Administration.

The 11-member State Commission on Judicial Conduct accepts and prosecutes complaints against judges in the Court of Appeals. The Commission investigates and makes initial determinations regarding judicial conduct. It may also recommend censure, admonition, or removal from office to the Chief Judge and Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals provides rules. However, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court is tasked with actual admission to practice.

The New York State Reporter is the official reporter of decision, selected by the Court of Appeals. To view recent decisions of the Court of Appeals, visit the Decisions page hosted on the New York Courts website. Also, it is possible to view the court’s archived opinions and decisions via the New York Law Reporting Bureau. This archive features opinions of the Court of Appeals dating as far back as 2003.

Interested persons may also locate these records in person by visiting the New York Court of Appeals at any of the addresses below:

Court of Appeals

20 Eagle Street

Court of Appeals Hall

Albany, NY 12207

(518) 455–7700

Court of Appeals

17 Lodge Street

Centennial Hall

Albany, NY 12207

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