Last time, we took a detailed look at how insurers and policyholders have fared at the Supreme Court since 1991. Today, we’re in the criminal docket, looking at the Court’s habeas corpus decisions.
Because a substantial portion of the Court’s total habeas corpus caseload is death penalty cases which come straight to the Supreme Court without an intervening Court of Appeal decision, we combine our usual four tables into one below. “CC” is prosecution wins in non-death cases which were affirmed by the Supreme Court; “CL” is prosecution wins which were reversed; “LL” is defense wins affirmed, and “LC” is defense wins reversed.
For the entire period, 55.88% of the Court’s non-death penalty habeas cases were won by the prosecution below. The Court reversed 47.37% of the prosecution wins, but 86.67% of the defendants’ wins. In 1992, the Court reversed three prosecution wins in non-death habeas cases. In 1993, the Court reversed two. In 1995, the Court affirmed one prosecution win and reversed one, and reversed a defendant’s win. In 1998, 2001 and 2002, the Court reversed one defense win. In 2003, the Court affirmed one prosecution win and reversed one, and reversed two defense wins. In 2004, the Court reversed one prosecution win and two defense wins. In 2005, the Court affirmed two prosecution wins and reversed two defense wins. In 2008, the Court reversed one prosecution win while defendants batted .500 – one win, one loss in cases they’d won below. In 2010, the Court affirmed four prosecution wins. In 2012, the Court affirmed two prosecution wins and reversed one defense win. In 2014, the Court reversed one defense win, and in 2016, it affirmed one.
In the table below, we review the overall reversal rates, disregarding who won below, in non-death habeas cases. Overall, the Court has reversed in non-death habeas cases in 64.71% of cases since 1991. Between 1990 and 1995, the Court reversed in whole or in part in 87.5% of its non-death habeas cases. Between 1996 and 2000, it only had one non-death habeas case, and reversed. Between 2001 and 2005, it reversed in 76.92% of its cases.
Since then, things have gotten considerably tougher for appellants in habeas cases. Between 2006 and 2010, the Court reversed in only 28.57% of its non-death cases. Since 2011, the Court has reversed in only 40% of its cases.
In Table 527, we review the data for habeas petitions in death penalty cases.
This data comes with a very big qualification, however. Many death penalty habeas corpus petitions are decided by summary order, not full-blown opinion, and therefore are not captured here. So, although the Court has granted in part 36.36% of habeas petitions in death penalty cases which reached full-blown opinions, it would be emphatically wrong to argue from that that the Court is frequently overturning death penalty judgments; it is not.
That said, what does the data about this subset of death penalty habeas cases show? Between 1991 and 1995, the Court granted in whole or in part 50% of the death penalty habeas petitions it decided by full-blown opinion. Between 1996 and 2000, the grant rate was down to 33%. Between 2001 and 2005, the Court granted 45.45% of its petitions. Between 2006 and 2010, it granted in whole or in part 30.77% of the petitions. Between 2011 and 2017, the Court granted in whole or in part death penalty habeas petitions in only 22.22% of cases.
Join us back here on Thursday as we turn our attention to two new areas of law.