Sunday, July 1, 2012

How Much Difference Does the Lawyer Make? The Effect of Defense Counsel on Murder Case Outcomes | RAND

My experience as a Public Defender pool attorney in Newark from 1979 - 1983 taught me that New Jersey's statewide, adequately funded Office of the Public Defender made the common view "get a lawyer not a public defender" a tragic error if acted upon.  The PD's astounding record in death penalty cases proved it beyond doubt.  [Of 228 death penalty trials (1982 - 2007) 60 were sentenced to death, 57 death sentences were reversed on appeal. 9 condemned men remained on death row when the Legislature’s Study commission recommended repeal in 2007. No one was executed from reinstatement to the day the Legislature repealed capital punishment in December 2007, replacing execution with life imprisonment without parole. See the 2008 symposium - `Legislation, Litigation, Reflection, and Repeal].  But that is isolated and anecdotal evidence.
The Rand Corporation authors systematically measure the difference in Philadelphia which has a perpetual contact with the Defenders Association of Philadelphia.  This makes the situation in Philadelphia much superior to the rest of Pennsylvania - the only one in the country to provide no state funding for indigent defense.  In the upcoming 50th Anniversary year of Gideon v. Wainwright we need to defend the defenders.  - GWC
h/t John Steele, Legal Ethics Forum
How Much Difference Does the Lawyer Make? The Effect of Defense Counsel on Murder Case Outcomes | RAND:
by James M. Anderson and Paul Heaton
One in five indigent murder defendants in Philadelphia are randomly assigned representation by public defenders while the remainder receive court-appointed private attorneys. The authors exploit this random assignment to measure how defense counsel affect murder case outcomes. Compared to appointed counsel, public defenders in Philadelphia reduce their clients' murder conviction rate by 19% and lower the probability that their clients receive a life sentence by 62%. Public defenders reduce overall expected time served in prison by 24%. 
They find no difference in the overall number of charges of which defendants are found guilty. When they apply methods used in past studies of the effect of counsel that did not use random assignment, they obtain far more modest estimated impacts, which suggests defendant sorting is an important confounder affecting past research. To understand possible explanations for the disparity in outcomes, they interviewed judges, public defenders, and attorneys who took appointments.
 Interviewees identified a variety of institutional factors in Philadelphia that decreased the likelihood that appointed counsel would prepare cases as well as the public defenders. The vast difference in outcomes for defendants assigned different counsel types raises important questions about the adequacy and fairness of the criminal justice system.

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