We are frequently asked how long does an appeal take. While the answer is variable – appeals in some complex cases are literally held for years, and some emergency appeals are decided in hours – there are general answers. Overall, the average time from appeal to final disposition was just under a year (11.7 months) in 2010, which was five months faster than the same number in 2009. The Sixth Circuit averages 15.5 months from the filing of the notice of appeal to the final disposition. As we’ve previously reported, only the Ninth Circuit takes longer (16.3 months). The Fourth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits are the fastest, taking just over nine months from beginning to end.
But each circuit also has its own priorities. One focus of the Sixth Circuit is promptly deciding motions. Along with the Second Circuit, the Sixth is one of very few circuits have special motions attorneys who work closely with the clerk’s office. As a result, motions are often decided in days or weeks instead of months – a great boon for parties and practitioners. By contrast, other circuits (such as the Eleventh) often take three months to decide even the most simple motions, even though they may decide appeals overall more quickly. However, the Sixth Circuit does not prioritize original proceedings, such as mandamus cases, taking 7.0 months to decide those cases, which is ten times the 0.7 month average in the Eleventh Circuit. Given that mandamus cases are often very time-sensitive, this may discourage the filing of such cases.
There is always a tradeoff between the attention the court can give a case and the amount of time it takes. To deal with its criminal backlog, the Second Circuit began placing sentencing cases on a non-argument calendar. But once those cases cleared out, sentencing cases began to appear again on the oral argument calendar. To deal with its current backlog, the Sixth Circuit has been moving certain types of cases away from oral argument and expanding the role of the staff attorneys. A circuit’s practices in criminal, civil, pro se, immigration and prisoner cases will change as its dockets and priorities change. These changes can have a large effect on time and attention given to individual cases, but are done largely out of the public’s view.