This week, we wrap up our analysis of reversal rates by area of law and the party prevailing below with a look at the criminal docket between 2010 and 2015.
In Table 319 below, we report the percentage share of the criminal docket made up by each of the areas of law on which the Court handed down decisions. Criminal procedure was essentially flat during the past six years: 31.12% of the criminal docket between 2010 and 2016, 30% between 2005 and 2009. Constitutional law was again the second most common issue on the Court’s docket, accounting for 22.82% of the criminal docket (it was 23.33% for 2005-2009). Sentencing and habeas corpus cases were up slightly, but were once again the third and fourth most common issues on the Court’s criminal docket. Sentencing cases were 14.52% of the docket, up from 12.08%, and habeas cases were 10.37%, up from 9.17%. Sexual crimes and mental health issues were next on the Court’s docket, accounting for 4.56% and 3.73% of the caseload, respectively. The small number of death penalty appeals the Court heard prior to the abolition of the death penalty accounted for 2.07% of the criminal docket. Attorney admission and discipline cases were 1.66% of the docket, as were property crimes and juvenile issues. Obstruction of justice issues and violent crimes accounted for another 1.24%, and the rest of the docket was de minimis at less than 1%.
In Table 320, we report the share of the cases in each area of law where the defendant prevailed below. We reported earlier that the criminal docket was somewhat more tilted towards reviewing prosecution wins between 2005 and 2009 than it had been earlier. We see below that that trend has continued over the past six years. In only six mostly minor areas of the law were defense wins more common. The Court’s small dockets in property law, vehicle law and official misconduct consisted completely of defense wins below. Two-thirds of the Court’s mental health cases – another comparatively small area of the docket – were defense wins below as well. The only substantial parts of the Court’s docket where defense wins were more common were the two biggest areas: criminal procedure, in which 59.46% of the docket involved defense wins, and constitutional law, where 56.37% of the caseload did.
In the remaining significant areas of the criminal docket, prosecution wins from the lower courts predominated. Only 24% of the habeas corpus cases since 2010 were defense wins below. Just below half – 48.39% – of the cases involving sentencing law were defense wins below. Just under half of the juvenile law cases the Court reviewed – 47.06% – were defense wins below. Only 36.37% of the cases involving assaults and other sexual crimes were defense wins.
Join us back here tomorrow as we turn our attention to the area-by-area reversal rates.