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.
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:
Justices Writing to Reverse Conviction:
Dissents to affirming conviction:
Dissents to reversing conviction: