Monday, January 30, 2012

The NYCOA Bunch: An Analysis of Divided Criminal Cases at the New York State Court of Appeals

By Alexander Hyde
Alex Hyde, a 2011 summa cum laude graduate of Albany Law School, is currently employed in the General Counsel’s office for a group of insurance companies, headquartered in Glenmont, N.Y.  In his paper and slides, which were prepared for the Fall 2010 Judicial Process Seminar, Alex tracked and analyzed voting trends at the New York Court of Appeals in divided criminal cases between 2007 and 2010.

Observing the actual function of courts has been the work of many legal realists. It is an important task for many reasons.  First, courts make law and determine rights.  Demystification of the judicial process helps to decipher how justice is meted out; it can also prepare a practitioner.  Second, many realists seek to improve the way courts function. The first step in that process is to acknowledge the current role of the judiciary and isolate areas of weakness.  Finally and most importantly, for many realists the determination of what courts actually do is important simply to expose the inaccuracies of alternative pronouncements of the judicial process.  If ignorance tolerates injustice, disingenuousness accelerates and exacerbates it.  A frank discussion of reality, the argument goes, is the necessary approach to a judicial system which, admittedly, is impossible to perfect.
For my foray into the realist’s world, I chose to observe the New York State Court of Appeals.  The Court’s recent change of leadership piqued my interest. Specifically, I sought to determine the significance of the replacement of former Chief Judge Judith Kaye with the current Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman.  Other than their swap, the court’s composition has remained unchanged since 2006.  Therefore, the two chiefs were each paired with the same six confederates for roughly the same period of time as of the writing of this paper.

To glean the significance of this judicial switcheroo, I chose to analyze divided criminal cases at the Court for the final two years of Chief Judge Kaye’s tenure, and for the first two years of Chief Judge Lippman’s tenure.  I focused on whether cases were decided “pro-defendant” or “pro-prosecution”.  I made the same determination for each judge’s written opinions and dissenting votes.  Based upon that compilation of data, I attempted to identify any discernible trends, and the results of that effort are reported below.*
* Citations to references in this introduction are available in the paper.
To read the entire paper, open HERE.
To view the complete slide presentation, open HERE.
(It is then best to download the presentation and view it from there.)