Earlier this week, we began a multi-day crossover post at the Illinois Supreme Court Review, comparing the dockets of the Illinois and California Supreme Courts for the past twenty-eight years (1990-2017), and tracing how those Courts’ caseloads have evolved over that period. In our first two posts, we addressed the Courts’ civil caseloads. In this post and tomorrow, we’ll be addressing the Courts’ criminal dockets.
We begin with the Illinois Supreme Court, 1990-1996. Given that the Illinois Supreme Court outpaced the California Supreme Court in civil decisions for the period, it might be logical to expect that the California Supreme Court was more active in criminal cases. But it was not – the Illinois Supreme Court handed down 461 decisions, while the California Supreme Court handed down 386. The leading area of law on the Court’s criminal docket was the death penalty in these pre-repeal days (119 cases), followed by constitutional law (96), criminal procedure (78), habeas corpus (61) and sentencing law (30).
The California Supreme Court’s docket was skewed during these years. Before 1992, the court was still issuing full-blown opinions in a great many attorney disciplinary and admissions cases (regular readers of this blog will have noticed that we define this half of the docket as criminal, quasi-criminal, juvenile and attorney discipline cases). The Court decided sixty-three attorney disciplinary cases in 1990 and 1991 alone – the most common subject in 1990’s criminal docket, and the second most common in 1991. After that, the Court virtually stopped issuing such opinions, disposing of most disciplinary cases in unpublished orders. For the entire seven years, the most common subject on the court’s docket was the death penalty (129 cases), followed by attorney discipline (67), criminal procedure (64), sentencing (32), constitutional law (25) and habeas corpus (24). So the top five most common areas of criminal law in the Illinois Supreme Court’s docket for these years occupy five of the top six slots in California.
Across these first seven years, death penalty cases accounted for 25.81% of the Illinois Supreme Court’s criminal docket, followed by constitutional law (20.82%), criminal procedure (16.92%), habeas corpus (13.23%) and sentencing law (6.51%). Attorney disciplinary cases, the second most common item on the California Supreme Court’s docket, were sixth in Illinois at 5.21% of the docket.
In California during these years, the death penalty represented slightly over one-third of the criminal docket – 33.42%. Attorney discipline cases were next, almost entirely on the strength of their predominance in 1990 and 1991 – 17.36% of the docket for 1990-1996. Following that were criminal procedure (16.58%), sentencing law (8.29%), constitutional law (6.48%) and habeas corpus (6.22%).
For the years 1997 to 2003, the Illinois Supreme Court once again outpaced the California Supreme Court on the criminal side, 466 decisions to 376. The docket shifted emphasis as the state began its glide path to death penalty abolition. For these years, constitutional law was the most common criminal law subject (115 cases), followed by habeas corpus (93), criminal procedure (72), the death penalty (71) and sentencing law (40).
There were changes in the top five in California too. Once again, the death penalty was the most common subject, with ninety-one cases. But criminal procedure was close behind, accounting for 81 cases. After that came sentencing law (48), constitutional law (45) and violent crimes (28).
Overall in Illinois, constitutional law was up only slightly, from 20.82% of the docket for 1990-1996 to 24.68% in 1997-2003. Habeas corpus was up sharply, from 13.23% to 19.96%. Criminal procedure was down slightly, from 16.92% to 15.45%. Of course, the death penalty was way down as a share of the docket, from 25.81% to 15.24%. Sentencing law was up a bit, from 6.51% to 8.58%. Among the less common areas of law, attorney disciplinary cases fell from 5.21% of the docket to only 2.15%. Property crimes fell from 1.3% to 0.64%. Sexual offenses accounted for a larger share, from 0.65% to 1.93%. Juvenile offenses were way up too, from 1.3% to 5.79%.
For the years 1997-2003, death penalty cases fell as a share of the California Supreme Court’s criminal docket, from 33.42% to 24.2%. Although criminal procedure was right behind in absolute numbers, it actually was down a bit as a share of the docket, from 16.92% to 15.45%. Sentencing law cases rose from 6.51% to 8.58% of the criminal docket, while constitutional law rose from 6.48% to 11.97%. Violent crimes cases increased their share of the docket from 3.63% to 7.45%. Most of the lesser areas of law on the docket were relatively flat as a share of the total caseload with the exception of sexual offenses and property crimes, both of which significantly increased their share – sexual offenses went from 1.04% in 1990-1996 to 4.25% in 1997-2003, and property crimes cases shot up from 0.78% to 3.99%. Attorney disciplinary cases fell from 17.36% of the docket to only 2.66% for 1997-2003.
Join us back here tomorrow as we conclude our four-part series comparing and contrasting the dockets of the Illinois and California Supreme Courts.