For the past two weeks, we’ve been considering the Illinois Supreme Court’s rate of unanimity and dissent in civil and criminal cases between 2000 and 2015. Today, we address a related historical issue. Until 2011, when the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty, appeals in death cases were heard in the first instance at the Supreme Court. What was the Court’s unanimity and dissent rate in those high-stakes cases?
The answer is that death cases were enormously contentious during much of our period of study. Although death penalty appeals had slowed to a trickle by that time, the Court’s unanimity rate in 2005, 2006 and 2008 was zero. The unanimity rate in 2000 was 11.76%, and only 14.29% the following year, and 20% the year after that. Although there were never a lot of death appeals during the relevant period, the Court’s unanimity rate in such cases was over 80% over three times – in 2003, 2010 and 2011.
So how deep was the division in the Court on death cases? In Table 260 below, we report the lopsided rate for death cases during the same period. The chart shows that the dissent on the Court was fairly limited in nearly all years. Even in 2000, when the unanimity rate was 11.76%, 82.35% of all death appeals were decided with zero or one dissenter. The following year, the lopsided rate dropped to 42.86%, but every one of the Court’s death appeals was decided with zero or one dissenters between 2003 and 2008, and again in 2010 and 2011.
Join us back here next week as we begin another new topic – the reversal rate for each district of the Appellate Court in civil and criminal cases, and a deep dive into the Court’s handling of PLAs.