Yesterday, we addressed the Illinois Supreme Court’s rate of unanimous and near-unanimous opinions in civil cases. Today, we turn to the criminal docket.
In Table 257 below, we report the overall data for the criminal docket. For the years 2000 through 2003 – years in which the Court was split five Democrats to two Republicans – the unanimity rate for criminal cases was substantially below where it was for civil cases. The Court was badly split at the beginning of the period in 2000 – only 26.44% of the Court’s criminal cases were decided unanimously (well below the 57.89% unanimity rate for civil cases that year). The following year, unanimity on the criminal docket was up to 60.34%, but it was still 14 percentage points below the unanimity rate for civil cases. Unanimity dropped six points in 2002, but was still thirteen points below the civil docket. In 2003, the margin increased a bit more – unanimity in the criminal docket was 53.85%, but 69.57% of the civil docket was decided unanimously.
Everything changed beginning in 2004. In the twelve years between 2004 and 2015, the unanimity rate for the criminal docket exceeded the unanimity rate on the civil side nine times. In 2004, 80.36% of the criminal decisions were unanimous, seven points higher than the civil side. The next year, the unanimity rate on the criminal side was only two points below the civil side; the year after that, it was thirteen points higher. In 2008, only 71.43% of the civil decisions were unanimous to 86% on the criminal side.
Unanimity rates were quite close on the two sides of the docket between 2009 and 2011 before the margin widened in 2012 – 69.7% unanimous on the criminal side, 55% on the civil. The criminal side unanimity rate was 65.79% in 2013 to 58.82% on the civil side before the two halves of the docket converged again. In 2014, 79.41% of the criminal docket was decided unanimously, and 81.82% was unanimous last year.