Abbreviated Procedures in the United States
Methods used to expedite disposition of cases at the appellate level. Abbreviated or shortened procedures are designed to move some cases through the steps more quickly or eliminate some of the steps altogether. Giving certain cases less than the “full treatment” requires the screening of incoming cases. Courts that use abbreviated procedures depend on support staff to do this preliminary screening and review. Once it has been determined that a case does not require full review, a court may limit or dispense with oral arguments, for example, and decide cases on the basis of the initial petition and supporting briefs. Similarly, an appellate court may be able to decide certain cases immediately after oral argument and without group discussion in conference. In some cases, a court may choose to adopt the recommendation from the staff as to disposition. Courts may also expedite the process by announcing outcomes unaccompanied by written opinions. Indeed, many appeals courts issue full opinions in less than half of their cases.
Analysis and Relevance
Abbreviated procedures are largely used by appellate courts having Mandatory Jurisdiction (see entry). These are the courts, commonly at the first level of a two-level appellate structure, that must decide all cases that are filed. As a result, they are more vulnerable to the pressures of high case volume. Abbreviated procedures allow these courts to process some cases more quickly. The technique clearly heightens efficiency. Courts that employ abbreviated procedures increase productivity as measured by cases disposed. There is a possible qualitative downside, however. Cases categorized as those not needing full review remain with staff for a least a preliminary decision in the form of a recommendation. This makes it probable that a case will be treated as “unimportant;” that the appellant’s case is “weak.” If this occurs, the integrity of the appellate process is dimin-ished. Finally, the same case volume pressure that prompts use of ab-breviated procedures also creates pressures on appellate judges to defer to staff judgments. In the face of burdensome caseloads, judges may not wish to closely scrutinize staff screening because to disagree with the staff judgment is to increase the number of cases needing full review. Questions about judicial control and independence are raised in such situations.
Notes and References
- Definition of Abbreviated Procedures from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California