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Notable Recent Publications - October, 2022

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


Cynthia Alkon, Criminal Court System Failures During COVID-19: An Empirical Study. Ohio Journal on Dispute Resolution.

How did the criminal legal system respond to the early months of pandemic in 2020? This article reports the results of a unique national survey of judges, defense lawyers, and prosecutors.... [S]urvey results detail, in ways not previously fully understood, how communications are and how ill-prepared the criminal courts and legal professionals were to deal with the quick change to online and remote platforms... [T]here were not place to consult with all the professionals as changes were being made. This may be one reason for the critical system failures reported in the survey on issues such as confidential attorney-client communications, as well as serious concerns surrounding physical safety inside courthouses and jails. The responses to the survey paint a picture of state courts that are chaotic, unpredictable, and facing serious case backlogs...

Eve Brensike Primus, The Problematic Structure of Indigent Defense Delivery. Michigan Law Review, 122/2.

The national conversation about criminal justice reform largely ignores the critical need for structural reforms in the provision of indigent defense. In most parts of the country, decisions about how to structure the provision of indigent defense are made at the local level.... In most counties, if an indigent criminal defendant gets representation at all, it comes from assigned counsel or flat-fee contract lawyers [who] have financial incentives to get rid of assigned criminal cases as quickly as possible. Those incentives fuel mass incarceration [and] are economically more costly to the public fisc than public defender systems.... This Article collects data from across the country to show how prevalent assigned-counsel and contract systems remain, explains why arguments in favor of substantial reliance on the private bar to provide for indigent defense are outdated, argues that more states need to move toward state-structured public defender models, and explains how it is politically possible for stakeholders to get there.

Christopher A. Sadler & Jonah A. Siegel, Indigent Defense Participation by Private Contractors and the Role of Compensation as an Incentive. Justice System Journal. 
[M]any indigent clients are represented by private attorneys who contract with court systems rather than employees of public defender offices. Understanding the incentives that motivate private attorneys to participate in the public sector by accepting indigent defense court cases is critical to shaping state and local policy related to representation. Prior research on incentives suggests that private sector employees are largely incentivized by income, while public sector employees are driven by a wider range of values.... This paper examines the intersection of private-sector employees and public services through the lens of indigent defense by examining whether attorneys who participate in indigent defense as contractors do so based on profit-seeking interests. Using data collected from a survey of indigent defense attorneys in the State of Michigan, this paper concludes that private-sector workers who contract with public organizations do so based on income motives. This motive is consistent with traditional motivating factors of private sector employees.

Ron Wright & Jenny Roberts, Expanded Criminal Defense Lawyering. Annual Review of Criminology, vol. 6.

This review collects and critiques the academic literature on criminal defense lawyering, with an emphasis on empirical work. Research on criminal defense attorneys in the United States has traditionally emphasized scarcity of resources: too many people facing criminal charges who are “too poor to pay” for counsel and not enough funding to pay for the constitutionally mandated lawyers. Scholars have focused on the capacity of different delivery systems, such as public defender offices, to change the ultimate outcomes in criminal cases within their tight budgetary constraints. Over the decades, however, theoretical understandings of the defense attorney's work have expanded to include client interests outside the criminal courtroom, reaching the broader social conditions connected to the alleged criminal act. Researchers have responded by asking a broader range of questions about the effectiveness of defense counsel outside the courtroom and by using improved data to study the effectiveness of lawyers at discrete procedural stages. 


Malia Brink, Jiacheng Yu & Pamela Metzger. Grading Injustice: Initial Appearance Report Cards, Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center.

Arrested people across the United States often wait in jail for days, weeks, or even months before seeing a judge or meeting an attorney.... [T]hese Initial Appearance Report Cards offer a closer look at the laws governing post-arrest procedures in each U.S. state, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While the Deason Center’s previous report provided an overview of the initial appearance crisis nationwide, the Initial Appearance Report Cards are a rigorous assessment of the laws in almost every jurisdiction in the country. These report cards reveal enormous gaps in the legal protections accorded to people accused of crimes, illuminating both the scope of the initial appearance crisis and our urgent need to solve it.  


Luis C. Torres, An Examination of the Effects of Workgroup Characteristics on Criminal Case Processing & Case Outcomes. University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Using observational data on a sample of pre-trial detention hearing cases (N = 330)...I examine how race and gender similarities among workgroup members and defense counsel type (private versus public defender) influences courtroom efficiency. I focus on three components of efficiency: communication, cooperation, and coordination. Second, I examine how these workgroup characteristics as well as the gender and racial composition of the workgroup are related to whether a defendant is ordered detained. Finally, I explore the potential mediating effects of courtroom efficiency on the relationships between workgroup characteristics (race and gender similarities and defense counsel type) and case decisions....Results show that although race and gender similarities do not significantly influence courtroom efficiency, defense counsel type plays a critical role — cases involving public defenders are more efficiently disposed of by the court. This study also finds that the characteristics of the workgroup examined do not directly or indirectly (through courtroom efficiency) influence case decisions.