Appeal from Jury or Judge Trial: Defendants' Advantage
Posted: 29 Feb 2008
The prevailing 'expert' opinion is that jury verdicts are largely immune to appellate revision. Using a database that combines all federal civil trials and appeals decided since 1988, we find that jury trials, as a group, are in fact not so special on appeal. But the data do show that defendants succeed more than plaintiffs on appeal from civil trials, and especially from jury trials. Defendants appealing their losses after trial by jury obtain reversals at a 31% rate, while losing plaintiffs succeed in only 13% of their appeals from jury trials. Both descriptive analyses of the results and more formal regression models dispel explanations based on selection of cases and instead support an explanation based on appellate judges' attitudes toward trial-level adjudicators. That is, these attitudes make the appellate court more favorably disposed to the defendant than are the trial judge and the jury. The especially large differences between appellate court and trial jury dispositions probably stems from the appellate judges' sizable misperceptions about the jury.
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