Maryland Certiorari Statistics, 2018 Term: The Numbers Behind the Declining Grant Rate

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

The Maryland Court of Appeals has been granting fewer certiorari petitions this term. Now we have some numbers to help analyze that decline.

For two years now, I’ve tracked the Court of Appeals’ petition docket. The judiciary’s annual statistical reports give the overall grant rate for civil and criminal certiorari petitions. Because the majority of petitions each year are filed pro se, the overall statistics are not terribly helpful for lawyers in advising their clients regarding the odds of certiorari.

Refining my approach from last year, I have compiled the statistics for the 2018 Term (petitions filed 3/1/2018 to 2/28/2019), alongside revised statistics for the 2017 Term (petitions filed 3/1/2017 to 2/28/2018). My numbers do not include: pro se petitions; the few still-pending petitions; petitions that were dismissed or voluntarily withdrawn; or sealed-docket petitions, most of which are juvenile cases.

To reiterate a few caveats from last year:

  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • Each petition rises or falls on its own merits.
  • My data-collection efforts are not perfect.
  • I’ve refrained from making judgment calls, such as whether to treat a group of related petitions as a single petition.

Despite the limits of this analysis, the numbers help in quantifying the decline in certiorari grants this term.

Civil Petitions Filed Through Counsel
Category 2018 Term 2017 Term
Overall 22% (35/160) 32% (47/145)
Filed by State 80% (4/5) 80% (4/5)
Filed by Locality 40% (4/10) 100% (3/3)
Filed by Office of the Public Defender 100% (1/1) 100% (1/1)
Filed by Private Counsel, for Private Party 18% (26/144) 28% (38/134)
Bypass Petitions 36% (4/11) 60% (9/15)
From Reported COSA Opinion 31% (9/29) 54% (15/28)
From Unreported COSA Opinion 15% (15/101) 21% (18/85)
From COSA Opinion That Drew a Dissent 50% (3/6) 100% (4/4)

A few data points jump out regarding the civil petitions. First, the Court granted significantly fewer civil petitions, despite a significant increase in the number filed through counsel. Second, the petitions filed by localities increased, but the Court granted them at a lower rate. Third, the fact that a Court of Special Appeals opinion was reported, or that it drew a dissent, was far less likely to draw a certiorari grant this term. Finally, the big story was the drop in the grant-rate for petitions filed by private counsel for private parties.

Criminal Petitions Filed Through Counsel
Category 2018 Term 2017 Term
Overall 32% (28/87) 38% (35/91)
Filed by State 83% (15/18) 70% (7/10)
Filed by Office of the Public Defender 20% (7/35) 40% (22/55)
Filed by Private Counsel 18% (6/34) 22% (6/27)
Bypass Petitions 0% (0/2) 0% (0/1)
From Reported COSA Opinion 70% (14/20) 73% (11/15)
From Unreported COSA Opinion 21% (12/56) 44% (24/55)
From COSA Opinion That Drew a Dissent 100% (1/1) 0% (0/1)

On the criminal side of the petition docket, the drop-off was lower but still palpable. The Office of the Public Defender filed fewer petitions, and yet its grant rate still dropped from 40% to 20%. The grant rate for petitions filed by private counsel remained low. Review of unreported opinions plummeted. But, mostly counterbalancing these decreases, the State filed many more criminal petitions than last year, and the Court of Appeals granted them at an even higher rate.

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