Washington Supreme Court Statistics: 2009

Veeery interesting information!

David Reitz, who co-manages an incredibly impressive blog of the Washington Supreme Court, tracked the opinions and votes of each WA Supreme Court justice and provided a spreadsheet with case-by-case breakouts.

http://www.wasupremecourtblog.com/

The Supreme Court Washington Blog provides news, information, and analysis of the cases before the Supreme Court of Washington.  I consider them an authority on the subject.  Here’s some highlights of the 2009 statistics:

* Soon-to-be Chief Justice Barbara Madsen was the most prolific writer this year.  She authored 18 majority opinions and 39 total opinions;

* Justice Richard Sanders is the most frequent dissenter, writing nearly three times as many dissents as any other justice;

* The justices with the highest rates of agreement were Madsen and Fairhurst (88%);

* The justices with the lowest rates of agreement were Sanders and Fairhurst (66%);

* Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which sees many narrow 5-4 decisions, the state Supreme Court enjoys a number of strong majority opinions, with nearly half of its rulings unanimous or 9-0 in the outcome.

This information is valuable.  Good criminal defense attorneys defend their clients’ constitutional rights at every opportunity.  They achieve this goal by (1) educating themselves on new court opinions, and (2) applying these opinions to pretrial motions which suppress illegally obtained evidence or dismiss the State’s case altogether.

A major component of educating oneself involves watching the activities of the State Supreme Court.  In short, attorneys can predict how a certain justice will rule on future cases based on how they ruled in past cases (I’m being flippant, but those who play odds on roulette tables understand what I’m saying).  Additionally, attorneys can also predict how the State Supremes adress controversial opinions handed down from the United States Supreme Court.

For example, Arizona v. Gant was a recent controversial opinion handed down by the United States Supreme Court.  Gant is extremely defendant-friendly: the U.S. Supremes ruled that, depending on the circumstances, a vehicle search is unlawful when a defendant is merely arrested for a traffic violation.  Gant essentially put a stop to unlawful pretextual searches by police.  Beautiful.

Recently, in State v. Bueln-Valdez, the WA Supremes supported Gant as good Washington law.  (I excitedly blogged this last month).  Us defense attorneys  who watch the WA Supremes were ecstatic.  We saw State v. Bueln-Valdez come down the pike and hoped/believed the WA Supremes would use it as a vehicle (no pun intended) to embrace Gant.  As a result, our pretrial motions to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence are now that much stronger because trial judges must follow the opinions of higher judical authorities when ruling on pretrial motions.

Again, these statistics help.  Major kudos goes out to David Reitz, Jonathan Bechtle, and Trent England for their blogging efforts.  Thank you, gentlemen. 🙂