Misdemeanor Appeals

62 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2019

See all articles by Nancy J. King

Nancy J. King

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Michael Heise

Cornell Law School

Date Written: October 30, 2019


Misdemeanor cases affect far more people than felony cases, outnumbering felony cases by more than three to one. Yet little empirical information exists on many aspects of misdemeanor prosecutions. This Article provides the first quantitative look at appellate review in misdemeanor cases nationwide. It uses data drawn from a random sample of direct criminal appeals decided by every state appellate court in the nation, unpublished aggregate data on misdemeanor trial court cases provided by the Court Statistics Project, and published state court statistics.

We provide the first estimate of the rate of appellate review for misdemeanors, concluding that appellate courts review no more than eight in ten thousand misdemeanor convictions and disturb only one conviction or sentence out of every ten thousand misdemeanor judgments. This level of oversight is much lower than that for felony cases, for reasons we explain. To develop law and regulate error in misdemeanor cases, particularly in prosecutions for the lowest-level offenses, courts may need to provide mechanisms for judicial scrutiny outside the direct appeal process.

Additional findings include new information about the rate of felony trial court review of lower court misdemeanor cases; ratios of appeals to convictions for various misdemeanor-crime categories; detailed descriptive information about misdemeanor cases that reach state appellate courts; the results of a complete statistical analysis examining which features are significantly associated with a greater or lesser likelihood of success, including crime type, claim raised, judicial-selection method, and type of representation; and the first quantitative look at how misdemeanor appeals differ from felony appeals.

Keywords: criminal, appeals, empirical, state court, misdemeanor

Suggested Citation

King, Nancy J. and Heise, Michael, Misdemeanor Appeals (October 30, 2019). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-14, Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 19-31, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3478284

Nancy J. King (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
(615) 343-9836 (Phone)
(615) 322-6631 (Fax)

Michael Heise

Cornell Law School ( email )

308 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-0069 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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