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Notable Recent Publications - April 2021

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


Hannah Haksgaard, "Court-Appointment Compensation and Rural Access to Justice."14 University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy, 88. 

"Hourly rates paid to court-appointed lawyers impact access to justice. Court-appointed lawyers provide necessary counsel in civil and criminal cases, yet hourly rates in many jurisdictions are so low that many lawyers cannot afford to take court-appointed cases. This article argues that low hourly rates cause problems: namely, appointed lawyers will be insufficient in number, inaccessible to their clients, and sometimes even ineffective. These problems are heightened in rural America where they are compounded by the geography of distance and the rural lawyer shortage. This article concludes by suggesting a number of policy solutions" 

Maybell Romero, "Low Ball Public Defense." 

"Focus on the deleterious effects of the privatization of different functions in both the criminal adjudicative system and criminal legal system on the whole has increased on both the scholarship and policymaking fronts. Much of this attention lately has been directed to privatized police forces, privatized prisons, and even privatized prosecutors. As important as the examination of privatization and outsourcing in these arenas is, the role of the privatized public defender—especially those in rural America, with about 90% of the country’s landmass and more than 20% of its population—gets lost in the shuffle. This Article centers these public defenders, especially in the rural context, and the specific ethical conundrums that arise when local governments such as counties and cities decide to privatize their public defense services through the use of competitive bidding. It opens with a comparison of two comparable criminal cases with very different results of the accused to spotlight what happens when public defense is privatized. The Article then discusses the specific perverse incentives that rural public defenders face and burden under when their services are procured by way of competitive bid—not with the intention of arguing that such services should never be bid out, but rather that any jurisdiction using such a system should be fully cognizant of the risks they incur when choosing to do so. The Article then introduces, for the first time, the concept of “noble cause corruption,” previously used to explain and to some extent excuse police malfeasance, in a new context to explain the consequences of some of the choices rural public defenders make while burdening under contract systems, presumably for the good of their clients" 


Sarah A. Duhart Clarke & Jessica Smith, Virtual Court Proceedings in North Carolina: Adapting to a Global Pandemic. UNC School of Government, Criminal Justice Innovation Lab. 

[From the report:] "We distributed an online survey in the summer of 2020 to North Carolina superior and district court judges, district attorneys, public defenders, private assigned and contract counsel, and clerks of court. The survey included quantitative and qualitative questions about changes to criminal court proceedings since the start of the pandemic. We also asked about the benefits of, concerns about, and suggestions for best practices related virtual proceedings, support for various virtual proceedings, experiences with using various technology platforms, and about other aspects of virtual proceedings." 

Andreea Matei, Jeanette Hussemann, and Jonah Siegel, Assessing a Social Worker Model of Public Defense. The Urban Institute.

"Since the 1970s, social workers have been embedded in public defense offices across the US to support attorney-client relationships, improve client experiences in court, and help mitigate client sentences. Yet little research has assessed how social worker programs affect the quality of public defense services or case outcomes of public defense clients, particularly within systems of assigned counsel (Senna 1975; Andrews 2012; Tomes 1997). This brief aims to fill this gap by evaluating the Social Worker Defender Program (SWDP) piloted in one Michigan county’s assigned counsel system. Beginning in 2018, the Urban Institute partnered with the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) to assess SWDP’s implementation and evaluate its client outcomes. Case file reviews and interviews with court actors and program participants show that, despite implementation challenges, a social worker’s presence is beneficial to both court actors and clients1 of assigned counsel attorneys. We hope this study’s results inform the field about efforts to design and implement social worker programs in assigned counsel systems and embolden more jurisdictions to use similarly innovative strategies to ensure quality representation." 

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and New York Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL), The New York State Trial Penalty: The Constitutional Right to Trial Under Attack

[From the website:] "To better understand the scope of the trial penalty and its impact in New York, NYSACDL and NACDL conducted a survey of criminal justice practitioners across the state. More than three hundred criminal defense attorneys responded and shared how they and their clients experienced the trial penalty firsthand. NYSACDL and NACDL also conducted a statistical analysis of criminal case dispositions, including a sample of 79 cases from Manhattan criminal defense organizations with plea and conviction data to investigate the prevalence and impact of the trial penalty in the borough." 


Justin Wise, JusticeText Co-Founder On Building Tech For Public Defense, Law360. 

[From the article:] "Devshi Mehrotra and Leslie Jones-Dove began work on JusticeText, an audiovisual management software platform, in 2019 while they were students at the University of Chicago. The platform is designed to help public defenders and defense attorneys more effectively comb through hours of video and audio evidence by automating transcripts and using other tools to spotlight key information. Through pilot programs, JusticeText has partnered with public defender offices in regions including New York, Washington, D.C., and Maryland."