Thomas Gray


A key component of America’s adversarial, case-based system of law is that each case usually produces a winner, someone who benefits from the application of a legal rule to the facts of their controversy. Of all cases, winners and losers in criminal law are most significant because losing often means a considerable loss in personal freedom. This Article analyzes the winners and losers of criminal appeals before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as a way of trying to learn about how that court conducts its business and makes decisions in one of its most crucial functions—being the final arbiters of justice in state criminal law. The results indicate a court that rules overwhelmingly against defendants on appeal, but that has drifted by a small amount in a pro-defendant direction over time. A key feature of the court’s decisions is unanimity—it decides the vast majority of criminal appeals without dissent. There is also no strong connection between the party that appointed the justice and how they vote, implying that partisanship does not play a strong role in how the court decides criminal cases.