For the past two weeks, we’ve been tracking trends in the length of majority opinions at the California Supreme Court. Today, we turn our attention to the Court’s criminal opinions during the years 2008 to 2015.
In the title, we ask whether majority opinions are getting longer in criminal cases. The answer is yes. As we showed earlier, majority opinions between 2000 and 2007 typically averaged in the low thirties. For example, in 2001, non-unanimous majority opinions averaged 26.11 pages to 31.45 pages for unanimous opinions. The next year, non-unanimous opinions averaged 38.14 pages to 30.02 pages for unanimous opinions. In 2003, non-unanimous opinions averaged 34.22 pages to 34.83 for unanimous opinions. In 2004, non-unanimous opinions averaged 29.87 pages to 35.44 pages for unanimous opinions. The first indications that opinions were getting longer came in 2007, when non-unanimous majority opinions jumped to 51.38 pages.
Once again, there was no consistent relationship for criminal cases between non-unanimous and unanimous decisions. In 2008, majority opinions in non-unanimous criminal cases averaged 36.88 pages to 43.18 for unanimous decisions. The following year, opinions were somewhat shorter; non-unanimous majorities averaged 32 pages, to 41.86 for unanimous decisions. In 2010, both non-unanimous and unanimous majorities averaged above forty pages – 40.91 for non-unanimous decisions, 44 for unanimous decisions. In 2011, non-unanimous majorities averaged 54.85 pages to 40.73 for unanimous majorities. The following year, opinions were shorter, falling to 27.87 pages for non-unanimous majorities and 42.93 pages for unanimous decisions. But in 2013 and the years since, opinions became longer again. In 2013, non-unanimous majorities averaged 45.89 pages to 46.68 for unanimous majorities. In 2014, non-unanimous majority opinions averaged 52.78 pages to 48.39 for unanimous majority opinions. Last year, majority opinions in non-unanimous criminal cases averaged 42.91 pages, to 36.67 for unanimous majority opinions.
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Join us back here tomorrow as we turn our attention to the Court’s majority opinions in automatic death penalty appeals between 2008 and 2015.