Last week, we reviewed the data on reversal rates for the various Districts and Divisions of the Appellate Court in civil cases at the Supreme Court. This week, we’re taking a look at the criminal docket.
In Table 918, we report the overall reversal rate for each intermediate Court in the 1,361 criminal and quasi-criminal cases in our database since 1990. Only one court statewide is over sixty percent reversal – the 3rd at 61.88%. Seven courts had overall rates in the fifties, and two courts – Divisions Six and Five of the First District – had twenty-eight year reversal rates of 48.37% (the Sixth) and 46.15% (the Fifth). Only cases taken directly from the Circuit Courts, which predominantly (but not entirely) consists of death penalty appeals before the death penalty was repealed in Illinois, have a lower reversal rate: 41.67%.
Once again, we’re using three-year floating averages in the Tables below rather than year-by-year reversal rates, in order to try to smooth out large swings from one year to the next which are actually random. As we see in the next several Tables, the effort isn’t entirely successful, at least with the Divisions of the First District. Typically, the Court decides only a scattered few criminal cases from any particular Division in a given year, so the three-year totals reversed and affirmed are still relatively low numbers, subject to large swings.
For the entire period, the Court decided forty-five criminal cases from Division One, reversing in 57.78%. After rising to 100% in 1996, the court’s rate dropped to one-third in 1997 and 2000 and zero in 1998 and 1999. The rate rose to 80% in 2002 and 2004 and 100% in 2003 and 2007, but fell to 37.5 in 2009, 11.11% in 2010 and 30% in 2011. The rate was up for three years beginning in 2013 (80%, 100% and 100%, respectively), before settling down to two-thirds in 2016 and 2017.
The Court has decided forty-four criminal cases from Division Two of the First District, reversing in 52.27%. After coming in around average for 1992-1994, the rate dropped to 28.57% in 1995 and 37.5% in 1996. The three-year rate dropped to zero in 2000, but from 2001 to 2004 was at 100%. The rate had drifted back down to average by 2008 before falling substantially from 2009 to 2012, bottoming out at only 16.67% in 2010 and 2011. The reversal rate was 50% in 2013, 60% in 2014, two-thirds in 2015 and 2016 and 57.14% last year.
The Court has decided sixty-five criminal cases from Division Three of the First District since 1990, reversing in 56.92%. The reversal rate started out the nineties high, coming in at 81.82% in 1992 (i.e., cases in 1990, 1991 and 1992). After three straight years at two-thirds and a small uptick in 1996 to 71.43%, by 1998, the reversal rate had dropped to one-third in 1998 and 2000. The rate briefly dropped again in 2003 and 2004, to 25% and 28.57%, respectively. In eight of the past ten years, Division Three’s reversal rate has been at or significantly below its long-term average, excepting only 2008 (75%) and 2009 (83.33%).
The Court has decided forty-four cases from Division Four, reversing in 59.09%. As you can see from Table 922, Division Four might be subject to more (arguably random) enormous swings in its three-year floating reversal rate than any other Appellate Court in the state. The rate was zero in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 2003 and 100% in five years during the same period – 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2002. The rate has been just a bit more consistent since. The rate was close to the long-term average from 2004 to 2007 before jumping to 80% in 2008, 85.71% in 2009, 77.78% in 2010 and 70% in 2011. The last three years have seen another downswing in the court’s reversal rate: 50% in 2015, zero in 2016 and 40% in 2017.
Division Five of the First District has varied widely from year to year too. Overall, the Supreme Court reversed 46.15% of the thirty-nine criminal cases it decided from Division Five. The rate was significantly above average during most of the nineties – 66.67% in 1993 and 1994, 75% in 1995, 60% in 1996 and two-thirds again in 1997 – before dropping to zero in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The rate rose again to two-thirds in 2002 and 2003, 100% in 2004 and 2005, 92.86% in 2006 and two-thirds in 2007, but has been well below average since 2011: zero in 2011, 2012 and 2016, 20% in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and 25% in 2015.
The Court has decided forty-three criminal cases from Division Six of the First District, reversing in whole or in part in 48.84%. Division Six had four very good years from 1995 to 1998, with the reversal rate at 33.33% in 1995 and 1998 and 25% in 1996 and 1997. In 1999 and 2003, the reversal rate rose to 100%, and it remained above average in the three intervening years. Since 2004, Division Six’s reversal rate has been quite steady, holding at 50% from 2008-2011 and in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Join us back here tomorrow as we review the rest of the Districts’ criminal reversal rates.