Last time, we took a deeper look at the Court’s experience since 1992 with tort law cases on the civil side. Today (and next week), we’ll be taking a further look at the death penalty decisions, tracking four variables: (1) total decisions; (2) complete reversals; (3) partial reversals overturning the death penalty (ARL in the tables below); and (4) partial reversals affirming the penalty (ARC).
In Table 486, we chart the data for the years 1992-1998. The total number of death penalty decisions was highest in 1992, when the Court handed down thirty-three opinions. There were fifteen decisions in 1993, seven in 1994, fifteen in 1995, eight in 1996, fourteen in 1997 and thirteen in 1998. Outright reversals were very rare – one each in 1997 and 1998, and that’s it. Partial reversals reversing the penalty were rare too – one each in 1995 and 1997. Partial reversals affirming the penalty were a bit more prevalent – nine in 1992, one each in 1993 and 1995, two in 1996 and 1997 and one in 1998.
In Table 487, we chart the data for the years 1999 through 2006. Total death penalty cases drifted up a bit in these years – six in 1999, nine in 2000, eleven in 2001, thirteen in 2002, twenty in 2003, twenty-one in 2004, twenty-six in 2005 and nineteen in 2006. The Court reversed outright only once, in 2003. Partial reversals overturning the penalty were slightly more common – one each in 2001 and 2002, three in 2003 and two in 2004 and 2006. As for partial reversals affirming the penalty, there was one in 2000, two in 2002, one in 2003 and three per year in 2005 and 2006.
As shown in Table 488, death penalty decisions were almost perfectly flat between 2007 and 2012 – 23 in 2007, 25 in 2008, 24 in 2009 and 2010, 26 in 2011 and 25 in 2012. Outright reversals picked up slightly, with one per year in 2008, 2011 and 2012, and two in 2009. There was one partial reversal overturning the penalty in 2007 and 2008 and two in 2012. Partial reversals affirming the penalty were up – three in 2007, four in 2008, three in 2009, one in 2010, two in 2011 and three in 2012.
Interestingly, the Court’s output of death penalty decisions has drifted downwards over the past five years, with eighteen decisions in 2013, twenty-three in 2014, seventeen in 2015, twenty-four in 2016 and only eleven last year. Outright reversals aren’t much more common than they were earlier, with the only examples in these years in 2014 (one) and 2016 (two). Partial reversals overturning the penalty are more frequent though; the Court handed down one in 2014, three in 2015, four in 2016 and one in 2017. Partial reversals affirming the penalty are up too: one in 2013, seven in 2014, five in 2015, four in 2016 and one in 2017.
Join us back here next Thursday as we continue our analysis of the Court’s death penalty decisions.