Just the Facts: U.S. Courts of Appeals
Just the Facts is a new feature that highlights issues and trends in the Judiciary based on data collected by the Judiciary Data and Analysis Office (JDAO) of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Comments, questions, and suggestions can be sent to the data team.
Crimes involving drugs fueled a 15 percent increase in criminal appeals last year even as the total volume of appeals continued to steadily decline, according to statistics from the JDAO. The vast majority of appeals are unsuccessful: Fewer than 9 percent of total appeals in 2015 resulted in reversals of lower courts, the figures show. Below are highlights of the data on the federal appellate system along with graphics that help explain the statistics.
- Total filings in the 12 regional U.S. courts of appeals fell 1 percent to 53,266 in calendar year 2015, although criminal appeals filings increased 15 percent (up 1,623 cases) (See Table 1 and Chart 1). This growth was driven by appeals involving the sale, distribution, or dispensing of drugs other than marijuana, which rose 47 percent to 4,090.
- From January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2015, total appeals court filings decreased nearly 5 percent, declining in every year since 2012. Reductions occurred in each category except bankruptcy appeals (which rose 22 percent) and original proceedings (which rose 12 percent) (See Table 1).
- In 2015, 76 percent of appeals court filings were appeals of decisions by the district courts, and 13 percent were appeals of decisions by administrative agencies. Eight percent of filings were original proceedings, and 2 percent were appeals of bankruptcy case decisions (See Table 1 and Chart 2).
- Fewer than 9 percent of total appeals resulted in reversals of lower court decisions in 2015. Appeals of decisions in U.S. civil cases and prisoner petition appeals had the lowest rates of reversals (See Table 2 and Chart 3).
- In 2015, case terminations by the appeals courts decreased 3 percent (down 1,571 cases) to 52,881 (See Table 3).
- During the five-year period from 2011 through 2015, case terminations fell almost 8 percent, with increases occurring only in terminations of bankruptcy appeals (up 18 percent) and original proceedings (up 4 percent) (See Table 3).
- Median disposition times fell 20 percent, from 10.8 months in 2011 to 8.6 months in 2015 (See Table 3).
- A total of 41,618 appeals court cases remained pending on December 31, 2015, close to the same total as one year earlier and 6 percent below the total five years earlier (See Chart 4).
Definitions: An appeal is a case seeking to have a higher court review and change a decision of a lower court or administrative agency. In the federal judiciary, most appeals are received by the 12 regional courts of appeals and decided by three-judge panels. These appeals courts also handle some original proceedings, which are cases not considered previously in lower courts.
Case termination refers to cases that were dismissed, settled or closed as a result of a final judgment by a court.
The charts include data from the 12 regional courts of appeals but not from the Federal Circuit, which maintains its own data.
|U.S. District Courts|
|Civil — Prisoner Petitions||15,605||15,111||14,958||14,788||13,723|
|Civil — U.S.||2,757||2,665||2,622||2,694||2,678|
|Civil — Private||12,537||12,598||12,498||12,671||11,851|
NOTE: This tables excludes data for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
SOURCE: Table B-1, Statistical Tables for the Federal Judiciary: Dec. 31, 2011-2015
1 Miscellaneous applications were not collected until 2012