Today, we begin another phase of our data analytic look at the Illinois Supreme Court’s oral arguments. Over the past five and a half months, we’ve reached a number of conclusions about what we can infer from oral argument about the likely result of a case and which Justice(s) are writing. Our analysis has been based upon our review of all 233 oral arguments in civil cases at the Court between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2014. Now, we consider whether or not criminal cases are different. Our data is based on oral arguments in criminal, quasi-criminal (habeas and juvenile) and disciplinary cases decided so far in 2015.
In earlier posts, we reported here that in civil cases, both appellants and appellees averaged between ten and fifteen questions per argument, with about four additional questions in rebuttals. Here, we considered whether the Court’s unanimity (or division) in civil cases affected the level of questioning.
In Table 106 below, we report the average number of questions the Court asked in each segment of the oral argument in criminal cases, divided by non-unanimous and unanimous decisions. The Court was less active in every segment than it was in civil cases. Appellants averaged more questions than the appellees in both non-unanimous and unanimous decisions. Appellants tended to be asked more questions when the Court was divided, but the effect was reversed when the Court was unanimous – appellees were asked forty percent more questions by a unanimous Court than by a divided one.
In Table 107 below, we analyze whether the Court’s question patterns differ according to how lopsided the decision is. It appears that the answer is no; appellants average re questions before a closely divided Court in criminal cases, but appellees average slightly more questions from lopsided Courts. The appellants average more questions regardless of the vote than the appellees.
In Table 108 below, we address the same question in a somewhat different way – all other things being equal,modes the margin between the losing and winning parties suggest anything about the likely voting margin on the Court? For civil cases, we concluded that more lopsided questioning did not reliably indicate a more lopsided decision.
In criminal cases, winning appellants tend to average more questions than appellee a regardless of the margin of the vote. Although appellants average only slightly more questions than appellee when the Court unanimously reverses, losing appellants tend to average far more questions when the Court unanimously affirms. When the Court returned a 5-2 decision in criminal cases last year, the appellant has averaged eight questions to the appellee’s one, regardless of which side won.
But let’s look at the question in yet another way. Unlike civil cases, where neither plaintiffs nor defendants are routinely on one side or the other, a significant majority of the Court’s criminal cases have involved defendants as appellants. We concluded – unlike the result in civil cases – that the losing party does not necessarily average more questions measured by appellant and appellee. But how about if we divide the data by defendants and the State?
The data is reported in Table 109 below. There, we see the same result we saw in the civil cases – once the cases are divided by defendants and teh State (as opposed to appellants and appellees), the losing side reliably averages more questions. Losing defendants average nearly a question and a half more than the government does when it wins. When teh government loses, it averages three more questions than the endant.
Join us back here next week as we continue our analysis of the criminal case arguments of 2015.