Saturday, November 03, 2007

By the numbers: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

In writing the last post I looked up the most recent annual statistical summary on the Texas state court system to find data for 2006, and ran across several interesting tidbits about the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (starting on p. 26 of the pdf file):

For starters, 77.7% of the CCA's cases are non-discretionary, mostly writs of habeas corpus. The number of discretionary petitions added to the docket increased slightly in 2006 after declining each year since 2000, so they're at least taking a look at slightly more cases than before.

The total number of opinions written at the CCA also jumped in 2006, to 602 overall, up from an average of 477 over the previous three years. (My guess is that's evidence of more minority and concurring opinions being written as the court majority has dived further off the deep end, but the report doesn't break the data down in that much detail.)

When the CCA does decide to review petitions, for reasons that are unclear from the data or the narrative (leave educated guesses in the comments), cases from certain jurisdictions are MUCH more likely to have CCA review granted.

Percentage of Petitions for Review
Granted in FY 2006 by CCA:


10th (Waco) - 31.9%
3rd (Austin) - 19.6%
8th (El Paso) - 16.9%
6th (Texarkana) - 14.9%
13th (S. Texas) - 13.5%
4th (San Antonio) - 13.3%
9th (Beaumont) - 11.4%
7th (Amarillo) - 10.5%
11th (Eastland) - 10.5%
1st (Houston) - 8.2%
12th (Tyler) - 5.9%
2nd (Fort Worth) - 5.9%
14th (Houston) - 5.0%
5th (Dallas) - 4.8%

I'd love to know why some of you legal eagles in the crowd think these numbers vary so widely. E.g., what do they have against the Waco court? (UPDATE: A reader points to this article from the Waco paper I'd seen but forgotten about concerning divisions on Waco's 10th appellate court that probably explains much of the disparity; the other appellate courts, though, similarly have a pretty wide range among them, even excluding Waco as an outlier - it would be interesting to perform a content analysis to see which kind of cases are being taken and overturned.)

I was also interested to learn that the percentage of death sentences affirmed by Texas' high criminal court has declined in the last several years, though it's hard to say why (bad publicity, perhaps). Here are the percentages:

Percentage of Death Sentences Affirmed by Texas CCA

1999 100%
2000 97.5%
2001 98%
2002 97.8%
2004 97.1%
2005 97.1%
2006 92.3%

I'm not presenting these data to make any particular point, just to share some statistics that interested me when I read them that may also interest Grits readers. Let me know what if any significance you think they have.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

On the Waco Court of Appeals, two of the three judges have diametrically opposing views on criminal law issues. Due to these differences, dissenting opinions are significantly more common from the Waco Court than the other intermediate courts of appeals.

The increased-number of dissents means that it is more likely that a petition for discretionary review is granted since one of the grounds for seeking discretionary review is the issuance of a dissenting opinion.

Also, the Waco Court of Appeals is well-known for issuing unusual criminal law opinions. This also increases the likelihood of discretionary review since they are more likely to be in conflict with another intermediate court of appeals.

Michael said...

What would be interesting would be to know what percentage of the PDRs granted were State's PDRs and what percentage were Defense PDRs. I'm pretty sure that someone from TCDLA did the numbers recently. The State has an advantage (other than the Court itself). The State Prosecutor's Office is dedicated (it seems) to cherry-picking appellate decisions ripe for reversal by the CCA.

A PDR isn't a right for a defendant/appellant, so I would think that good defense PDRs would be much more rare than good prosecution PDRs.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 3:57--Waco has some sharp internal conflicts. That court also handles appeals from a number of rural counties in addition to McLennan County. The smaller counties that don't deal with the unique issues as often are very likely to get it wrong--the Waco trial courts are certainly no exception--which means that bad facts at trial combined with bad blood in the intermediate appellate court makes cases that are destined for appeal to the CCA.

The same thing happens for civil cases out of Beaumont, without the internal conflict--bad facts with highly political appellate judges. The 9th is notorious for its inconsistent holdings (both criminal and civil) that flat-out conflict with the law. In law school we were taught that Beaumont had a weak court. As a clerk for the Supreme Court I was told much more directly that Beaumont and Eastland were never too be cited, unless as an example of what not to do. Waco was not far behind. These courts have no respect by any person who tries to be consistent in their reading or application of the law, and it's the job of the CCA and Supreme Court to make the disparate political views on the various intermediate courts make sense as a whole.

You might also consider the political make up of the CCA and the courts that are most often "corrected." With judges like Keller they are more likely to grant review of cases from areas with judges that are primarily Democrats.

Anonymous said...

The percentage of State PDRs granted will always be significantly higher than the percentage of Defense PDRs.

This occurs because most convictions are affirmed on direct appeal and a PDR is routinely filed where there is an affirmance. In fact, if a defense attorney does not file a PDR, he can be looking at ineffective assistance claim.

OTOH, there are fewer reversals of convictions by the intermediate courts of appeal, and the State does not always ask for discretionary review when it is reversed.

Anonymous said...

CCA Courts 1 & 14 in my opinion are the worst courts in Texas. They evidently don't read any of the cases sent to them if the trial judge does not agree the just deny it. Well, what trial judge is going to agree to give someone an appeal, even though that person requested an appeal, the filing of the appeal was put on the docket for the next court day and the lawyer did not even show up?

This lawyer should be disbarred!! The CCA Judges follow whatever the District Judges say and do and there are very few appeals granted.

Sharon Keller is a Republican, not a Democrat, no one would want to claim her right now; but she is a Republican!!

Anonymous said...

The permission of the trial judge is only required in appeals from guilty pleas.

If a defendant pleads not guilty and is convicted by a jury or in a bench trial, he has an absolute right to appeal.

Anonymous said...

9:45: Who said Keller was a Democrat?

I said that Keller, as a Nazi-style Republican, is more likely to review cases from courts full of Democrats.

Take a deep breath.

Anonymous said...

The problem in Waco is that Judge Gray is usually correct but is outnumbered by the other two. Any interested parties should search for a thread at TDCAA about that court.

Michael said...

A defendant/appellant does not have a right to assistance of counsel beyond the direct appeal, so I don't understand how a failure to file a PDR could be ineffective assistance of counsel. Failure to advise a client of the right to file a pro-se PDR might be getting there, but I'm curious to know how failure to file a PDR with nothing else is legally ineffective.