How long does a criminal appeal take in the Third Circuit?

An internet search of the question “how long does a federal criminal appeal take” reveals multiple blogs, articles, and yes, even YouTube videos that say “about a year,” “longer than what you’d expect,” “a long time,” among other such answers. I’ve posted statistics (see here and here) that suggest that in the last couple fiscal years, 50% of criminal cases the Third Circuit decided took about 12 months or less (from the date of docketing in the circuit court to the date of decision) and 75% of those cases took about 16 months or less.  Based on these statistics, a conservative estimate of how long a criminal appeal takes in the Third Circuit is 16 months.

But it stands to reason that not all criminal appeals are alike – an appeal after a jury trial and sentencing, for example, can be expected to take longer than an appeal from a denial of a motion to modify a sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).

Most, but not all, of the criminal appeals in my data sets are direct appeals from cases in which the defendant challenges his or her conviction, sentence or both. There are some direct appeals in which the government filed a cross appeal; other appeals were initiated solely by the government.  In my FY 2014 data set for the Third Circuit, I have:

  • 136 appeals from cases in which the defendant was convicted after a jury or bench trial (this includes 3 government-initiated cross appeals);
  • 115 appeals from cases in which the defendant was convicted after pleading guilty (this includes 5 government-initiated appeals);
  • 1 appeal from a case in which the defendant pleaded nolo contendere;
  • 15 cases returning to the Third Circuit after resentencing;
  • 28 appeals from revocations of supervised release;
  • 53 appeals seeking review of decisions on post direct-appeal motions and petitions (e.g., motions for a sentence reduction; Rule 36 motions; motions for return of forfeited property; petitions for a writ of coram nobis); and
  • 5 other cases seeking review of various “other” decisions. This is the group in which any government appeal of a grant of a motion to suppress or a motion to dismiss an indictment falls.

For appeals in the first group of 136 (conviction after trial):

25% of the appeals were decided within 11.07 months;
50% of the appeals were decided within 14.55 months (the median); and
75% of the appeals were decided within 18.73 months.

So these cases appear to take a bit longer than other criminal appeals (based on the 12 and 16 month figures above). This is confirmed by the following:

►Including the nolo contendere case in the group of appeals from cases in which the defendant pleaded guilty (for a total of 116 appeals):

25% of the appeals were decided within 9.03 months;
50% of the appeals were decided within 11.47 months (the median); and
75% of the appeals were decided within 15.07 months.

►The median time to decision for the 28 appeals from revocations of supervised release was 10.17 months; 75% of these cases were decided within 12.43 months;

►The median time to decision for the 53 appeals from post direct-appeal motions (which does not include habeas petitions) was 5.10 months; 75% of these appeals were decided within 10.32 months.

In short, how long a criminal appeal takes in the Third Circuit depends on the nature of proceeding leading up to the appeal. It can take a year and half in the case of appeals from jury trials, but if what is being challenged is a denial of a Rule 36, Rule 35, or other post-direct appeal motion or petition, the appeal can be decided in substantially less than a year.

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