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A new report funded by the National Institute of Justice titled, "Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes," examines the difference that a lawyer makes to the outcome of serious criminal cases in Philadelphia.
Since April 1993, every fifth murder case in Philadelphia is sequentially assigned at the preliminary arraignment to the city's Defender Association and the other four cases are assigned to appointed counsel.
The study showed that compared to private appointed counsel, public defenders make an enormous difference in the outcome of cases by reducing the murder conviction rate by 19%, the probability that their clients receive a life sentence by 62% and overall expected time served in prison by 24%.
To account for the discrepancy, the authors conducted interviews with judges, appointed lawyers and public defenders. They concluded that "conflicts of interest on the part of both the appointing judges and the appointed counsel, limited compensation, incentives created by that compensation and relative isolation" were to blame.
Though inadequate defense is a contributing cause of wrongful convictions, it's difficult to measure the scope and impact of the problem in these cases. For more information, click here.
Read Measuring the Effect of Defense Counsel on Homicide Case Outcomes.
Read the abstract for the study.