Yesterday, we asked whether the Court’s civil cases with a dissent below take longer to decide, charting divided and unanimous cases against the number of days from grant of review to scheduling of oral argument. Today, we’re looking at the criminal docket.
We can see from Table 421 below that the answer to the question we asked in the title is perfectly clear: do criminal cases with dissents take longer to decide? No. In only two of twenty-four years in our data base did cases with a dissent below average less time to get to argument than unanimous cases did. (A major caveat – since all death penalty claims come straight from the trial court to the Supreme Court, and they are by definition “unanimous” decisions, we exclude them entirely from this analysis).
In 1994, criminal cases with a dissent below reached argument in an average of 251 days. Unanimous cases took 450.24 days. In 1994, divided cases averaged 412.33 days, while unanimous ones averaged 490.23 days. In 1996, divided cases averaged 335 days to argument, while unanimous decisions averaged 539.55 days. In 1997, divided cases averaged 191.67 days to argument, while unanimous decisions averaged 334.59 days. In 1998, divided cases averaged 328.6 days, and unanimous decisions averaged 608.52 days. The following year, divided cases averaged 512 days to argument, while unanimous decisions averaged 548.24 days.
In 2000, for once divided cases took longer – cases with a dissent below averaged 662.25 days to argument, while unanimous cases averaged 480.28 days. In 2001, divided cases were still a bit higher – 495 days to 459.65 days for unanimous decisions. But in 2002, divided cases took 311.75 days to 436.09 days for unanimous decisions. In 2003, divided cases averaged 423.6 days to argument, while unanimous criminal cases came up in 592.55 days. In 2004, decisions with a dissent averaged 434.08 days, and unanimous decisions came up in 622.15 days. In 2005, divided cases averaged 494.75 days, but unanimous decisions averaged 567.87 days.
In 2006, criminal decisions with a dissent below took an average of 598.5 days to reach argument, while unanimous criminal decisions came up in 760.73 days. In 2007, divided decisions took 538.2 days to 818.14 days for unanimous cases. In 2008, divided decisions averaged 432 days to 778.97 days for unanimous decisions. In 2009, divided criminal decisions averaged 486.25 days to argument, while unanimous cases averaged 605.16 days. In 2010, divided decisions reached argument in 478 days, while unanimous cases averaged 578.8 days. The difference increased in 2011 – 468 days for divided decisions, 857.28 days for unanimous decisions. In 2012, divided decisions averaged 434 days to argument, while unanimous decisions averaged 722.07 days.
In 2013, divided criminal decisions averaged 485.17 days to argument, while unanimous decisions averaged 639.78 days. In 2014, divided decisions averaged 562.33 days, while unanimous decisions averaged 699.38 days. In 2015, measuring the average days to argument for divided criminal cases is easy – there weren’t any. Unanimous criminal decisions took an average of 698.73 days. In 2016, divided criminal cases took an average of 450 days to decision, while unanimous cases averaged 665.44 days. Finally, last year, criminal cases with a dissent below averaged 539.33 days from grant to argument, while unanimous decisions averaged 635 days.
Join us back here next Thursday for our next research question.