Maryland Court of Appeals Aims To Take Fewer Cases, But Petitioners’ Success Rates Stay the Same

By Derek Stikeleather

The Daily Record recently reported Chief Judge Barbera’s plans to reduce the number of cases that the Maryland Court of Appeals hears each term. According to the article, the Court will hear an average of 88 cases per year, a significant reduction from the Court of Appeals’ historic average of more than 100 cases per year. For example, in its 2011-13 terms, the Court docketed 133, 105, and 119 appeals, respectively. Table CA-3 of Maryland Judiciary Annual Statistical Abstract Fiscal Year 2014 (“2014 Abstract”).

The Court’s September 2015 list of petitions granted and denied suggests this goal of reducing the Court’s case load is not mere rhetoric. After its September 17 judicial conference, the monthly meeting at which the Court typically reaches its decisions to grant or deny petitions, the Court granted two petitions and denied 68. Even after adding the petition that was granted in early September, this still leaves petitioners with a paltry 4.22 percent success rate (three for 71) in September. Weighed against the Court’s recent averages for granting petitions in roughly 20 percent of civil cases and 13 percent of criminal cases, see Table CA-5 of 2014 Abstract (FY 2012-14), I decided to see how this 4.22 percent rate measures up against other rough months for petitioners and whether it indicated a sea change at the Court of Appeals. Although the 4.22 percent rate for September is, in fact, quite low, it is far too early to claim that there has been a radical shift in Annapolis.

Looking at rulings made shortly after the judicial conference (and presuming that they were decided at the conference) as well as rulings for the entire month, here’ s what I found dating back to the start of 2014:

Petitions granted at conference Petitions denied at conference Total petitions granted Total petitions denied Petitioners’ overall success rate
2015 58 453 11.35
Sept. 2 68 3 68 4.22
August 10 47 11 47 18.96
July 4 48 4 48 7.69
June 6 53 6 53 10.17
May 3 48 3 48 5.88
April 9 44 9 44 16.98
March 8 42 8 42 16.0
February 6 65 6 67 8.22
January 8 34 8 36 18.18
2014 82 629 11.53
December 6 43 8 44 15.38
November 5 69 5 70 6.67
October 8 42 8 42 16.0
Sept. 11 72 11 73 13.09
August 7 54 7 55 11.29
July 13 73 13 73 15.12
June 4 38 4 39 9.3
May 8 46 8 46 14.81
April 2 52 2 57 3.39
March 8 33 8 33 19.51
February 3 56 3 56 5.08
January 5 41 5 41 10.87

Although my suspicion proved correct that granting only two of 70 petitions at a conference would be the low-water mark, September 2015’s 4.22 percent success rate was merely the second-lowest success rate since January 2014. April 2014 saw a 3.39 percent success rate (two of 57). Notably, that low score came immediately on the heels of the petitioners’ most successful month; March 2014 saw a gaudy 19.51 percent success rate. Similarly, this month’s low success rate follows August’s robust 18.96 percent success rate.

The takeaway from all if this amateur statistical analysis is that, although the September success rate for petitioners is very low, it is not a true outlier. From month to month, petitioners’ success rates will bounce around quite a bit, indicating that the Court remains focused on the merits of the petitions and is not wed to any certain quota of petitions granted per month. Perhaps more significant is the virtually unchanged success rate for petitioners in 2014 as compared to those in the first nine months of 2015 (11.53 percent vs. 11.35 percent). This suggests that the Court’s move to a reduced number of cases is going to proceed deliberately rather than abruptly.

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3 responses to “Maryland Court of Appeals Aims To Take Fewer Cases, But Petitioners’ Success Rates Stay the Same”

  1. Lex Apostata says :

    You should — as the Supreme Court does — distinguish between the denial of pro se cert petitions and “paid” (or Public Defender) cert petitions. In criminal cases, at least, pro se cert petitions are almost never granted. A month which happens to have a lot of pro se petitions will have a much smaller grant rate.

  2. Steve Klepper (@MDAppeal) says :

    It would be great if the dockets were online and allowed easy comparison of in forma pauperis and paid petitions. But we don’t have easy access. Either way, though, the point is that the numbers fluctuate greatly from month to month but have remained the same on an annual basis.

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