A blog on practice in the Nation’s second-most powerful court

Criminal appeals in the D.C. Circuit versus other circuits

The court issued one published opinion this past week, a decision reviewing a criminal sentence for bank fraud. No. 21-3053, United States v. Otunyo. The appeal involved a standard-issue sentencing challenge leading to an affirmance—the kind of case that other circuits hear by the hundreds, and even thousands. By contrast, only 81 criminal appeals were filed in the D.C. Circuit last year.

Why so few? Obviously the D.C. Circuit is by far the smallest of the regional circuits, which means it has fewer people to commit federal crimes. But that’s not the whole story. The D.C. Circuit also hears a smaller percentage of criminal appeals than other circuits.

Here are the total number of criminal appeals filed in each circuit last year, followed by the percentage those appeals represent of the total:

DC 81/16%
CA1 340/40%
CA2 669/24%
CA3 444/23%
CA4 1405/42%
CA5 2219/44%
CA6 1109/38%
CA7 636/30%
CA8 1093/41%
CA9 913/17%
CA10 349/26%
CA11 1097/28%

As you can see, only the Ninth Circuit (17%) comes close to the D.C. Circuit (16%). One reason for the low percentage in the D.C. Circuit may be that the U.S. Attorney in DC is prosecuting fewer arrestees. In 2022, for example, 67% of arrestees were not prosecuted, up from 35% in 2015.

In any event, the numbers right now are the lowest among the circuits, both in raw totals and proportionally.