Earlier this week, we looked at the reversal rates of the various Districts and Divisions of the Court of Appeal in civil cases before the Supreme Court. Today and tomorrow, we’re reviewing the data for the Court’s criminal docket.
But before we turn to the court-by-court numbers, let’s compare overall rates, both among the courts and to the civil rates. In Table 667, we compare each court’s twenty-eight year reversal rate in criminal cases to its reversal rate during the same period in civil cases. Several things seem noteworthy in this table.
One might tentatively expect, given that a substantial majority of the criminal cases the Supreme Court hears involve a defendant petitioner, the reversal rates in criminal cases would likely be less than in civil cases. And so they are in 14 of the 19 courts (three of the five exceptions are the three Divisions of San Diego’s Fourth District). The distribution of the data suggests, however, that the difference shouldn’t be much. Two courts have reversal rates over 70% on the civil side, and two on the criminal side. Eleven courts have civil reversal rates over 60%, but only six do on the criminal side. Seventeen courts have reversal rates over 50% on the civil side, and fifteen do on the criminal side. All nineteen courts are over 40% in civil cases and eighteen of nineteen are on the criminal side. For sixteen of the nineteen courts, the difference between civil and criminal reversal rates is less than ten points. The highest reversal rate on the criminal side is Division Two of the First District at 70.37%. Division Three of the Fourth is close behind at 70.24%.
But look at the bars for Divisions One and Four of the First District. The reversal rate for civil cases in Division One was 53.49%. But it was by far the lowest reversal rate in the state on the criminal side, at only 20% – a difference of 33.49%. Division Four, on the other hand, narrowly had the highest reversal rate in the state for civil cases. But its criminal rate was 29.14% lower at 42.86%. Trying to explain that result will have to wait for another day.
On the criminal side, we’re treating the First and Second District a bit differently. You’ll recall that when we were reviewing the civil side, we used three-year floating averages for the reversal rate in hopes of smoothing out what were purely random fluctuations because of the low number of cases handled by the Supreme Court in any given year. But for the thirteen Divisions in the First and Second Districts, that method appears to break down. The Supreme Court seldom hears even as many as four criminal cases a year from any Division. In most years, the total number of cases decided per Division is between zero and two. With comparatively few cases, even three-year averages take large swings from one year to the next. So for these thirteen courts, we chart the reversals and total number of cases (rather than the reversal rate) for each year.
Overall, the Supreme Court has decided only fifteen criminal cases which we’ve definitively identified as coming from Division One, reversing in three. Nearly half of these cases were in the nineties, with the Supreme Court reversing in only two of seven. The Court has not reversed a criminal case from Division One since 2004, affirming in all six it’s decided since then.
The Court has decided twenty-seven criminal cases from Division Two, reversing in 70.37%. The Supreme Court reversed six of seven cases it accepted in the nineties and all six it decided between 2003 and 2007. Since 2012, the Court has reversed in only two of five cases.
The Supreme Court has decided twenty-five criminal cases from Division 3 since 1990, reversing in 44%. The Court decided six cases between 1990 and 1997, reversing in five. But between 1998 and 2004, the Court reversed only three of twelve decisions. Since that time, the Court has reversed in three of seven cases.
The Supreme Court has decided twenty-eight criminal cases from Division Four of the First District since 1990, reversing in 42.86%. Ten of those cases fell during the nineties, with the Court reversing in four. Most of the remaining cases were decided between 2001 and 2010, when the Court decided fifteen cases from Division Four, reversing in seven. But the Court has decided only three more cases since that time, reversing in one.
The Supreme Court has decided thirty-two criminal cases from Division Five, reversing in 59.38%. Those cases are fairly evenly distributed over the period – eleven in the nineties, eleven between 2000 and 2009, and ten more from 2010 to last year. The Court reversed in eight of eleven cases during the nineties, but only five of eleven from 2000 to 2009. Since 2010, the Court has reversed in six of ten cases.
The Supreme Court has decided thirty-five cases from Division One of the Second District, reversing in 65.71%. Between 1990 and 1999, the Court decided ten of those cases, reversing in seven. The bulk of the cases – another twenty-six – were decided between 2000 and 2009. The reversal rate for the decade was 46.15%. Since that time, the Court has reversed in four of nine Division One cases.
The Supreme Court has decided twenty-one criminal cases from Division Two of the Second District, reversing in 42.86%. Six of these cases were decided during the nineties, with the Court reversing in only two. Twelve cases were decided between 2000 and 2009. Division Two was reversed in half those cases. Since 2010, the flow of cases from Division Two has slowed, with the Supreme Court deciding only three, reversing in one.
The Supreme Court has decided thirty-one criminal cases from Division Three of the Second District, reversing in 51.61%. Only six of those cases were in the nineties, with the Supreme Court reversing in four. The Court decided sixteen criminal cases from Division Three between 2000 and 2009, reversing in exactly half. Since 2010, the Court has reversed in four of the nine criminal cases from Division Three.
The Supreme Court has decided thirty-six criminal cases from Division Four of the Second District since 1990, reversing in 52.78%. Those cases are concentrated mostly in the middle decade of our study – there are six in the nineties, six between 2010 and 2017, but twenty-four between 2000 and 2009. The Supreme Court reversed only one of the six cases in the nineties. Between 2000 and 2009, the Supreme Court reversed just over half the time – thirteen of the twenty-four cases. Since 2010, the Supreme Court has reversed five of six criminal cases from Division Four.
Finally, the Court decided thirty-six criminal cases which came from Division Five of the Second District, reversing in 58.33%. In the nineties and again between 2000 and 2009, the Court decided eleven cases from Division Five, reversing in seven. The pace has picked up considerably since 2010, with the Court deciding fourteen cases from Division Five in only eight years, with the Supreme Court reversing in half.
Join us back here tomorrow as we complete our review of the District-by-District reversal rates in criminal cases.