United States: How Does The Area Of Law Impact The Level Of Questioning In Criminal Cases?

Last Updated: March 2 2017
Article by Kirk Jenkins

Yesterday, we analyzed how the area of law impacted the total volume of questions during oral argument in civil cases between 2008 and 2016, as well as analyzing how many questions one could expect in the most common areas of law in future cases. Today, we turn our attention to the Court's criminal docket.

The most active subject for appellants was juvenile issues. Appellants in cases principally involving juvenile issues averaged 21.73 questions per argument. Appellants in the few cases involving the death penalty (before its abolition) and alcohol offenses averaged 20 questions. Not surprisingly, attorney discipline cases tend to be active oral arguments, as appellants average 19.17 questions. Among the most frequent items on the Court's agenda, criminal procedure appellants averaged 15.77 questions, constitutional law appellants averaged 14.77, appellants in cases involving the law of sentencing averaged 13.57, and appellants in cases involving violent crimes averaged 12.67.

In only two areas – attorney discipline and property crimes (burglary and the like) – did appellees average more questions than their opponents. The busiest appellees were in attorney discipline cases, where appellees have gotten 21.33 questions per argument. Appellees in property crimes have averaged 19 questions. Criminal procedure appellees are next at 14.45, followed by juvenile issues (12.85), habeas corpus (12.66), constitutional law (11.79) and drug offenses (10.5). The most lightly questioned appellees, leaving aside areas with only a scattered few cases, were sex offenses (3.92), vehicle offenses (5.5) and death penalty (4.8).

As we did on the civil side, we also calculated the standard deviation of some of the most frequently heard issues in order to assess how variable the questioning has been. As we noted yesterday, approximately 68% of all results are within one standard deviation plus or minus of the mean.

Juvenile cases have varied widely between more and less active arguments. Appellants in juvenile cases have a standard deviation of 14.914, and appellees were 9.6424. Constitutional law cases were only a bit less – appellants' standard deviation was 10.8119 to 8.4254 for appellees. Appellants in criminal procedure cases had a standard deviation of 9.68416, and appellees were 9.95733. Appellants in sentencing cases were at 8.6716 to 8.3504 for appellees. Finally, appellants in habeas corpus cases had a standard deviation of 8.3787 to 8.6912 for appellees.

Join us back here next Tuesday as we turn our attention to a new topic in our ongoing study of the Court's oral arguments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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