It’s criminal!: An (updated) analysis of CT Supreme Ct opinions

not an actual judge

not an actual judge1

The last time I did this superficial analysis2 was three years ago. Let’s see what the Court has been up to since then, shall we?

First, some ground rules:

I may have missed one or two cases. Further, if you add up all the various numbers they might be off by one. It was difficult to figure out how to categorize partial “wins”. In a few cases I didn’t count them entirely, while in others I counted them. The percentages, however, should be unaffected by this. I’ve also ignored one which was deemed “moot”, so while I counted that in the stats for certification granted, I haven’t counted it in the verdict column. I also ignored the capital cases.

Further, I’ve compiled the number of times a Justice wrote a majority opinion or a dissenting opinion. I have not included, in each justice’s tally, every time they signed on to a majority, but I have counted each time they signed onto a dissent.

So, the stats from April 2010 till today:

In that time period, the Supreme Court decided approximately 137 cases dealing with criminal law.

Of those 137 cases, 81 were direct appeals to the Supreme Court. This is either a direct appeal by statute (few) or a transfer to the Supreme Court before the Appellate Court got to decide it (many, many more than in years past).

Of those 81 direct appeals, 68 were affirmances of convictions. That’s a remarkable 84% success rate for the Government’s position.

Of the 56 cases that went through the Appellate Court, the State was given permission to appeal in 24 cases, the defendant in 32 (this is a change from three years ago, when the State was given permission to appeal in more cases than the defendant. Does this mean that the State had less occasion to appeal? I don’t know).

Of all the cases that came from the Appellate Court, the breakdown is as follows:

  • When the State appealed a reversal of a conviction (25 times in all), the Appellate Court was affirmed 8 times, meaning the State was the loser in only 32% of the cases it chose to appeal.
  • When the defendant appealed an affirmance of a conviction (which he did 32 times), the Appellate Court was affirmed 25 times, meaning the defendant was the loser in 78% of the cases he chose to appeal.
  • When the defendant appealed an affirmance of a conviction (32), the Appellate Court was reversed a paltry 6 times, meaning the defendant “won” in only 22% of the cases he chose to appeal, and the big kahuna:
  • When the State appealed a reversal of a conviction, the Appellate Court was reversed 16 times.

So, in 24 cases where there was an appeal from the Appellate Court’s reversal of a conviction, the State won 16 times, which is 66%.

The Appellate Court was reversed by the Supreme Court in 22 cases out of 56, which is a 40% failure rate, down slightly from the 50% failure rate in 2010.

But there were far more affirmances of convictions being appealed by defendants than 3 years so, so that might account for the drop in percentages.

Of the reversals, the defendant “lost” 72.2% of the time. A conviction upheld by the Appellate Court was upheld by the Supreme Court 76% of the time.

A defendant was successful in the Supreme Court in only 14 out of 56 cases, which is a paltry 25% success rate. [Keep in mind that I have included partial wins as wins.]

Overall, out of the 137 criminal-ish cases considered by the Supreme Court, the defendant was ultimately successful in getting either an acquittal or new trial in 27 cases, which is a 19% rate of success. By contrast, the State “won” in 81% of all cases considered by the Supreme Court.

So, in the end, the overall “win” and “loss” numbers are pretty identical to those three years ago. What that means is that appeals are rarely successful.

Here are the stats on which justice wrote a majority or dissenting opinion, and how many times:

Justices Writing to Affirm Conviction:

Norcott: 20
Palmer: 14
Zarella: 13
Rogers: 13
Eveleigh: 10
Harper: 10
McLachlan: 8
Vertefeuille: 7
Katz: 6
McDonald: 2
Espinosa: 2

Justices Writing to Reverse Conviction:

Palmer: 6
Eveleigh: 5
Rogers: 4
Norcott: 3
Harper: 3
McLachlan: 2
Vertefeuille: 1
Katz: 2

Dissents to affirming conviction:

Palmer: 8
Eveleigh: 4
Katz: 2
Vertefeuille: 1
Harper: 1

Dissents to reversing conviction:

Zarella: 6
Palmer: 5
Rogers: 3
Eveleigh: 3
Vertefeuille: 3
Norcott: 2
McLachlan: 1
Harper: 1

Footnotes:

  1. Image via.
  2. It’s superficial, sure, but the argument can be made that there is a disconcerting trend toward becoming a rubber stamp court, a bureaucracy and a “gotcha!” game in which the goal is to deny Constitutional relief on an ever growing basis.

6 thoughts on “It’s criminal!: An (updated) analysis of CT Supreme Ct opinions

  1. nidefatt

    The disheartening thing for me was the first time I read an affirmance with a dissent and the dissent pointed out that the factual scenario adopted by the Court was totally wrong. In other words, you can’t even read the opinions to decide whether they are being correctly decided, because you can’t know without reviewing the briefs how the court crafted its findings to fit the disposition it wanted. They’re essentially lying. And that really, really sucks.

    Reply
    1. Gideon Post author

      You know what, you’re right. It’s terrifying. You see this when you do appeals yourself and you argue one thing and the court finds facts that are completely unsupported by the record.

      It’s remarkable how much the trend is toward “outcome oriented” opinions.

      Reply
  2. L

    Does this include cases where the SC declined to hear the case at all? I think these types of statistics are misleading where they don’t include those numbers. A denial of certification (?) should count as a loss for the appellant just as much as an affirmance does (for the purpose of compiling these statistics).

    Similarly, the Appellate Court’s “failure rate” is deceptively high if you’re leaving out denials of cert.

    Reply
    1. Gideon Post author

      It does not, because those statistics and decisions aren’t readily available. I think that would be a different analysis but leaving that out doesn’t undermine this one at all.

      The one that’s of concern to me: Appellate Court wins for the defendant – are almost always likely to be appealed by the State to the Supreme Court. There are probably very few – if any – wins in the Appellate Court that aren’t appealed.

      What is likely to happen, of course, is that the number of convictions affirmed will go way up, because the number of defendant’s petitions denied will significantly outnumber the number of State’s petitions denied.

      Finally, this analysis is about what the Supreme Court does in its opinions when it decides to hear a case. So, in that sense, it’s pretty spot on.

      Reply
  3. LJS

    What might be more interesting is the percentage of State’s petitions for certification granted as opposed to the percentage of Defendant’s petitions for certification. My gut sense is that almost all State’s petitins are granted, but relatively few defense ones are.

    Reply
    1. Gideon Post author

      Yep, that’s what I said in the comment above. Hard to get those numbers, though, as the information is not readily available on the web. I’d have to go through the last three years’ law journals.

      Reply

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