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Publication Criminal Appeals in State Courts

Nicole L. Waters, Ph.D., Anne Gallegos, M.P.A., National Center for State Courts, James Green, M.A., Martha Rozsi, Westat

September 3, 2015    NCJ 248874

Describes the characteristics of criminal appeals resolved in state appellate courts in 2010. The report provides information on variations from state to state in court structures for handling criminal appeals. It includes estimates of the number of criminal appeals resolved in state courts in 2010, by type of case, whether the state or the defendant petitioned the court, severity of the offense, level of appellate court (intermediate or last resort), and final outcomes. It tracks reversal rates for the top ten issues commonly addressed on appeal and reversal rates by the most serious offense in the underlying trial case. The report examines variations in case processing times by type of court, court structure, and whether or not the court reviewed the case on its merits. It also compares death penalty appeals with other appeals cases on these factors. Findings are based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' 2010 Survey of State Court Criminal Appeals, in which a sample of appeals were selected from the 143 state appellate courts with criminal jurisdiction.

Highlights:

  • In 2010, an estimated 69,348 criminal appeals were resolved in the 143 state appellate courts with criminal jurisdiction. „„
  • In 2010, 38 states had both intermediate appellate courts and courts of last resort, while 12 states had courts of last resort only. 
  • „Of the cases reviewed on the merits, 81% were affirmed. In more than half (52%) of all appeals, the appellate court upheld the trial court decision. „„
  • About 2% of all intermediate appellate court appeals were subsequently reviewed by the court of last resort. „„
  • The most common legal issue appellate courts addressed was sufficiency of evidence (15%), followed by excessive or inconsistent sentencing (10%).

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