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Notable Recent Publications - September 2020

Notable Recent Publications features the latest empirical research and data related to indigent defense. Should you have suggestions, ideas for work that should be included, or trouble accessing any of the articles featured, please write to


Matthew Clair, "Being a Disadvantaged Criminal Defendant: Mistrust and Resistance in Attorney-Client Interactions" Social Forces.
"Researchers have documented the power of legal officials to administer sanctions, from arrest to court surveillance and incarceration. How do those subject to punishment interact with officials and attempt to subvert their power? Drawing on interviews and ethnographic observations among 63 criminal defendants and 42 legal officials in the Boston-area court system, this article considers how socioeconomically and racially disadvantaged defendants interact with their defense attorneys, and with what consequences. Given racialized and classed constraints, many disadvantaged defendants mistrust their court-appointed lawyers. Their mistrust often results in withdrawal from their lawyers and active efforts to cultivate their own legal knowledge and skills. Defendants use their lay legal expertise to work around and resist the authority of their lawyers. Defense attorneys and judges respond with silencing and coercion, given the unwritten norms and rules of the court. These findings complicate existing accounts of disadvantaged defendants as passive actors and contribute to cultural sociological and relational theories of how people engage with professionals across institutional spaces. Unlike in mainstream institutions such as schools and hospitals where self-advocacy is rewarded in interactions, criminal court officials reject disadvantaged defendants’ attempts to advocate for themselves."

Anne Metz, John Monahan, Luke Siebert, and Brandon Garrett, Valid or voodoo? A qualitative study of attorney perceptions of risk assessment in sentencing and plea bargaining. Journal of Community Psychology.
"Prior research largely has explored judicial perceptions of risk assessment in sentencing. Little is known about how other court actors, specifically, prosecutors and defense attorneys, perceive risk assessments in the sentencing process. Here, we report a qualitative study on the use of risk assessment by prosecutors and defense attorneys in Virginia. A prior survey (n = 70) pointed to a statistically significant difference in how prosecutors and defense attorneys view the role of recidivism risk in sentencing. On the basis of the results of this quantitative study, we collected follow‐up qualitative data via interview (n = 30) to explain this unexpected difference. Analysis confirmed the survey findings that prosecutors and defense attorneys differ in their perceptions of risk assessment in sentencing. Results suggest that court actor perceptions vary as a function of professional role in the service of the identified client (the community or the defendant) and their interests. Although perceptions diverged on utility risk assessment in sentencing, both prosecutors and defense attorneys were outspoken in their skepticism of the Nonviolent Risk Assessment instrument that is used to predict recidivism risk in Virginia. This latter finding identifies obstacles that may emerge as jurisdictions adopt a risk‐based approach to sentencing. We conclude with recommendations for addressing these barriers that may provide useful guidance on the implementation process."


Caitlin August, Juveniles in the Interrogation Room: Defense Attorneys as a Protective Factor. Masters Thesis, Portland State University. 
"Through semi-structured interviews with 19 juvenile defense attorneys across the state of Oregon, I explored defense attorneys’ perspectives on juveniles’ legal decision-making in the interrogation room. I used an inductive approach to a thematic analysis to transcribe interviews into eight themes. These final themes, which give an overview of the topics discussed, include the following: situational factors, dispositional youth susceptibility factors, parental impact, requiring attorneys, law enforcement impact, opinions on safeguards, waiver competency, and system impact."


[From the website:] "In episode two, Just Science interviews Nicolas Hughes, assistant public defender with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office in Houston, TX, about the validation of tools utilized by digital forensics laboratories. Many forensic laboratories face overwhelming caseloads; digital forensic labs are no exception. The diversity and complexity of devices that can be used as digital evidence continues to be a dynamic problem. From malware scanners to cell phones to smart homes, digital evidence can be a pivotal piece of the puzzle when investigating crimes. Nicolas Hughes is uniquely poised to drive better practices within the digital forensic discipline. He blends his background in computer engineering and law to better understand problems of inaccuracy and misinterpretation. Listen along as he discusses digital security, the value of a skilled technician, and the validation of digital forensics tools in this episode of Just Science"