At last night’s New Jersey State Bar Association Appellate Practice Committee meeting, statistics from the 2016-17 Term of the Appellate Division were presented. Many of them are substantially similar to those of other years, indicating the relative consistency of the Appellate Division from year to year.
Reversal and affirmance rates are perhaps of most interest to litigants and appellate practitioners. This past year, 77% of civil appeals that were decided by two-judge Appellate Division panels were affirmed, while three-judge panels affirmed in 68% of all civil cases. The disparity between affirmance rates for two-judge versus three-judge panels was more pronounced in criminal appeals, where 88% of two-judge decisions resulted in affirmances while only three-judge panels affirmed in only 62% of criminal cases.
The reversal side of the coin followed this same pattern, as would be expected given the affirmance rates. In civil appeals, two-judge panels reversed in 13% of all decisions, while 17% of civil cases decided by three-judge panels resulted in reversals. The comparable figures for criminal appeals were 7% for two-judge panels and 26% for three-judge decisions.
Some people believe that argued appeals are more likely to result in reversals. The statistics from 2016-17 do show that reversal is more likely in argued cases. 68% of argued cases were affirmed, 19% were reversed, and 6% were affirmed in part and reversed in part (the remaining 7% were categorized under “other,” such as appeals that were dismissed or finally remanded). The figures for submitted cases were 83% affirmed, 9% reversed, 3% affirmed in part and reversed in part, and 5% “other.” Whether oral argument results in more reversals is unclear, since it may be that counsel are more likely to request oral argument in difficult cases, appeals where reversals are perhaps more likely whether there is oral argument or not. But the figures are food for thought.
Motions for leave to appeal continue to be a challenge on the civil side, but less so in criminal matters. In the past Term, only 12% of motions for leave to appeal in civil cases (70 out of 571) were granted. In criminal cases, 35% (62 out of 179) motions for leave to appeal were granted. The higher criminal rate may be attributable in significant part to appeals of the suppression of evidence, which command interlocutory attention due to their significant, sometimes case-dispositive effect on criminal matters.
Finally, the figures show that the Appellate Division, long the busiest undivided state appellate court in the country, more than kept up with its workload this past year. The judges disposed of 6,203 appeals (3,768 civil and 2,435 criminal), while 5,802 appeals of all types were added to the court’s docket. This is the equivalent of one opinion per judge every three days, a remarkable rate of productivity. On motions too, the court kept ahead. There were 9,337 motions of all types filed, while 9,393 motions were decided. Overall, the public is being well-served by the judges and staff of the Appellate Division.