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Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes

Date Published
June 22, 2013

Researchers from the RAND Corporation, under a grant from NIJ, used natural randomization of attorney assignment for indigent murder defendants in Philadelphia, Pa., to examine how defense lawyers affect murder case outcomes. The court randomly assigned one in five indigent clients to a public defender whereas all other clients received court-appointed attorneys.

The study found that, compared to appointed counsel, public defenders reduced their clients’ murder conviction rate by 19 percent, lowered their clients’ likelihood of receiving a life sentence by 62 percent, and reduced the expected sentence to be served by 24 percent. In addition to their quantitative analysis, the researchers interviewed system actors and discovered that institutional factors, such as lack of resources, lack of incentives and isolation, may have affected the differences between assigned counsel and public defender outcomes.

About This Article

The research described in this article was funded by NIJ award 2009-IJ-CX-0013, awarded to the RAND Corporation. This article is based on the grantee report Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes, James M. Anderson and Paul Heaton, RAND, December 2012 .

Date Published: June 22, 2013