During the twelve-month period ending September 30, 2013, litigants commenced 5,137 cases in the Sixth Circuit. Of these, 2,671 were pro se. However, a search of Sixth Circuit appellate decisions involving pro se appeals reveals just a fraction of these cases result in an opinion from the Court (as opposed to a summary order or disposition).
In the past year, just over a dozen pro se appeals were decided by the Sixth Circuit in published or unpublished opinions. Included in this number are a couple of cases in which the appellant either obtained counsel to help with part of the appeal during its pendency, or in which the appellant filed a supplemental brief in addition to counsel’s, alleging additional grounds of error. The majority of the cases (eight) were criminal pro se defendants, with nearly half of those representing federal habeas corpus petitions. Overall, criminal pro se appellants did not have much luck with the court—seven of eight petitioners lost on appeal, with two out of three of the habeas petitioners losing. Two other unsuccessful petitions involved attempts at sentence reductions but were denied relief.
Civil pro se litigants found better fortune with the court: of the five who appeared before the court, four obtained at least a moderate victory, either through reversal of summary judgment for their opponent, vacatur of a district court’s order, or the reinstatement of a previous damages award.
It is perhaps not surprising that criminal pro se litigants appeared most often before the court, nor that they lost the vast majority of the time. However, the thorough opinions allotted to criminal pro se appeals no doubt indicate the scrutiny under which the Circuit reviews criminal appeals, even pro se ones. Although such suits are often dismissed out of hand (more pro se suits were terminated than begun in the Sixth Circuit in 2013), the decisions uncovered here indicate that in this Circuit self-represented appellants certainly get a fair shake.