As a father of three children (one still in a car seat and one in a booster) and as an appeals lawyer in Georgia, I get two recurring and related questions. From the children, on car trips, I frequently hear, “Are we there yet?” From my clients and their families, I frequently hear, “when will the court decide my case?” For the former, there never really is an answer. Atlanta traffic mandates that today’s twenty-minute trip will be tomorrow’s three hour journey. But for the client’s question, there’s a pretty straightforward answer. And I always have to look it up. But after I finish this post, I won’t have to look it up again and neither will you.
One caveat. I’m speaking of direct appeals only in this post. The timing for applications from habeas, cert. petitions, interlocutory applications, or applications for discretionary review is a good subject for another post. And if any of those things get anywhere, though, you’ll find yourself back in a situation where merits briefs have been submitted, the case has been argued, and you’re waiting for a decision. Then you’ll get this question. And when you find yourself there, this post is for you.
The Two-Term Rule
We’re lucky here in Georgia. If cases aren’t decided in two terms of court in the Georgia Court of Appeals or Supreme Court of Georgia, they’re affirmed by operation of law. In the whole history of Georgia, a case has never been affirmed this way (cases have been remanded and docketed creatively as a work-around, but such a situation is truly rare).
Our two-term rule is a creature of the Georgia Constitution. In Article 6, Section 9, Paragraph 2 of the Georgia Constitution, you will find this language: “The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals shall dispose of every case at the term for which it is entered on the court’s docket for hearing or at the next term.”
When Does the Countdown Start?
The clock starts running in the term that the case would be set for oral argument, if oral argument were held. This provision is a little tricky. What if you don’t get oral argument or don’t ask for it? Check out your docketing notice. It will tell you when oral argument would take place if such were set. Regardless of whether you have oral argument, the clock starts ticking in the term of court oral argument would happen, if at all (regardless of whether oral argument ever actually does happen).
The Court must come to a decision in your case in the term of court when argument is set or the term of court immediately afterward.
But What are the Terms of Court?
The Supreme Court of Georgia and the Georgia Court of Appeals each have the following three terms every year:
- The January Term begins the first Monday in January (the January term ends on April 14; 15 days before that is March 31)
- The April Term begins the third Monday in April (the April term ends on July 31; 15 days before that is July 16)
- The September Term begins the first Monday in September (the September term ends on December 16; 15 days before that is December 1)
By law, no second term case can be decided within the last fifteen days of the term, except upon a motion for reconsideration. So, if your case reaches the term, do the math accordingly (or check out the parentheticals above).
If you want to cite to something more authoritative than Scott Key’s blog (yes, there could be such a thing), the terms of court and their closing dates may be found at OCGA Section 15-2-4. And the law that makes the terms of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals the same is OCGA Section 15-3-2.