FAQ - Kentucky Court of Appeals Opinions

What is a court opinion?
A "court opinion" is the appellate court's official decision and explanation of whether the lower court acted in accordance with the law.  An example of an appellate court is the Kentucky Court of Appeals.  An example of a lower court is Laurel County Circuit Court.  

Sometimes court opinions contain a summary of the facts of a case and therefore can be useful for finding out details surrounding a crime. Some opinions, however, only contain a discussion of legal issues that arose during a trial and may not shed light on any specific details.


What is a court transcript?
A "court transcript" is a word-for-word typed dialogue of everything said by witnesses, prosecutors, and the defense during a trial. It usually does NOT contain copies or photographs of exhibits.


Are there court opinions or court transcripts on this blog?
Some posts on this blog contain Kentucky Court of Appeals opinions.  There are no court transcripts posted on this blog.

Kentucky Court of Appeals opinions on this blog generally have this type of heading:

Court of Appeals of Kentucky.

MISE
v.
COMMONWEALTH.

April 27, 1904.

I only have one court transcript in my possession, and that is the 400+ page transcript of the Laurel County trial of James Mize for the murder of Elisha Whitaker in 1901.  I used the information contained in that transcript to write this post.

Can I get a copy of that Mise. v. Commonwealth transcript from you?
I wish I could share it with you but I'm sorry, no. I have no plans to type up or scan the 400+ pages of that transcript to post on this blog. That would be an impossibly tedious task, nor do I have the online image storage capacity to do that.  However, you are welcome to order it from the Kentucky Archives just as I did.


If a murder case you've posted about here does not include a court opinion, does that mean they didn't appeal the case?
It could be one of at least three situations. 1) Either they didn't appeal the case, or 2) they did appeal but the Court of Appeals decided not to hear their case, or 3) they did appeal and the Court of Appeals did hear their case but I just don't have a copy of the opinion. I mostly access court opinions in law reporters (such as the Southwestern Reporter or the Kentucky Law Reporter) that are accessible on google books, but there are many volumes not available on there.  I also had access to a westlaw account for a few weeks in 2013 and I looked up as many cases as I could on there as well. I note the source, either google books or westlaw, in my footnotes.

If you find a citation to a Kentucky Court of Appeals opinion and it is not included in my post on that murder, please share that citation in a comment on the appropriate post and I may be able to get a copy of the opinion from my local university's library.  A case citation looks like this:  Mise v. Commonwealth, 25 Ky.L.Rptr. 2207, 80 S.W. 457 (1904).   The key part of that citation is the "80 S.W. 457" which means volume 80 of the Southwestern Reporter page 457, which I could use to lookup at the library.


What is the connection between court transcripts and court opinions?
If you find a court opinion, there is a good chance you can also obtain a court transcript. However, sometimes there are court transcripts available on cases that do not have court opinions. The availability of court transcripts varies from courthouse to courthouse depending on the record retention procedures they had in place at the time.  In some courthouses, the court reporters may have been instructed to prepare transcripts on every capital case and filed them with the court clerk. Usually, though, because of storage capacity reasons, courthouses only maintain transcripts on appealed cases.  Generally, if the case you are interested in was appealed and the Court of Appeals heard the case, there is a very good chance you can obtain the lower court transcript.


The particular case I'm interested in was appealed. How do I obtain the court transcript?
You may be able to get the transcript on an appealed case from the respective county courthouse depending on your State and the age of the case. In Kentucky, criminal case files older than roughly 20 years are maintained by the Kentucky Archives.  However, the easiest way you can obtain the transcript is by ordering the Kentucky Court of Appeals case file from the Kentucky Archives.  You will need to know the defendant/appellant's name and the year the Kentucky Court of Appeals heard the case. As of this writing, you can order copies from the Kentucky Archives even if you are located out of state.  The cost for copying is determined by the number of pages in the file. Please contact the Kentucky Archives and/or visit their website for details.


Why would a lower court transcript be on file with the Kentucky Court of Appeals?
As a matter of general court procedure, when a case in a lower trial court is appealed to a higher appellate court, the lower trial court must prepare a full transcript of the trial proceeding to submit to the higher court for review. They send this typed transcript to the appellate court and this is what the appellate court uses to review what happened during the original trial.


So even if a county courthouse fire destroyed the case file I'm interested in, there may still be a copy of the court transcript at the Kentucky Archives?
Yes, if the case was appealed. The Kentucky Court of Appeals should still have the lower court transcript as part of its file even if the county's copy no longer exists. You would obtain this lower court transcript by ordering the Kentucky Court of Appeals case file from the Kentucky Archives. Contact them for details.



Still have questions on this topic? Please let me know in a comment below. Thank you!

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