It’s been a very busy few days since I was last able to post anything. So last evening, I went to the Eleventh Circuit homepage to scan the latest criminal appeals decisions, and came across Holsey v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison, No. 09-14257, an opinion affirming the denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Holsey, a death row inmate in Georgia. I was shocked to see that the opinion is 152 pages long!!
Normally, you might think that a longer opinion is more valuable in that such opinions at least allow the lawyers in the case to feel like their positions have been well considered by the Court. Compared to State court criminal appellate opinions, many of which are mere PCAs, or no more than a few paragraphs long, federal court opinions at least tend to provide a more thorough analysis of the issues. However, this 152-page opinion is a bit extreme, and I don’t mind saying so because even Judge Edmondson agrees! In his concurrence, beginning on page 104, Judge Edmondson makes some valid points, such as (1) longer opinions tend to contain more information than is needed to dispose of the issues, thereby increasing the chance for judicial error; (2) longer opinions can be overly taxing on the fellow judges of the panel, who have other cases to decide, on members of the Bar who try to stay current with the Court’s latest thinking, and on the public at large, as non-lawyers may have difficulties understanding the basis for the court’s decision; and, (3) longer opinions make it more difficult for lawyers to discern the rationale from dicta.
If you have any time to spare, I suggest a quick review of Judge Edmondson’s concurrence. And if you need something to get you fired up for the day, don’t miss Judge Barkett’s dissent!