Skip to main content

Notable Recent Publications - May, 2023

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


IDRA discussion: Client surveys are tough. What should we be doing? 


Aviv Caspi Overworking Public Defenders.

Most U.S. criminal defendants are represented by government-employed public defenders (PDs). PDs consistently face higher caseloads than recommended by professional guidelines, but systematic evidence of the impacts of excessive workloads on defendants is lacking. This paper uses novel case-level data from three U.S. counties and an instrumental variable approach to study the causal impacts of high caseloads on PD time allocations and defendant outcomes. I exploit variation in case assignment timing, which can lead to unexpected increases in PD workloads, to instrument for workloads and find that an increase in workload does not change the probability of an acquittal/dismissal but lengthens an average sentence, conditional on conviction, significantly. Depending on the county, shifting a given PD from the 25th to the 75th percentile of their workload lengthens sentences by 93–101%. I observe PDs shifting time away from misdemeanors and low-severity felonies when caseloads increase to maintain the time they spend on high-severity felonies. I also find suggestive evidence that outcomes are worse for minority, particularly Hispanic, defendants. Taken together, my findings suggest PD overwork negatively affects the fairness of the legal system across multiple dimensions, and jurisdictions that invest in reducing PD caseloads can expect to more than offset those costs in reduced spending on incarcerations. According to my estimates, every dollar spent hiring an additional PD in Berrien County, Michigan would save $6.31 in short-term incarceration costs.

Todd A. Collins and Matthew E. Baker, From Roadside Stops to the Courthouse Stairs: Defendant Race and the Attorney's Role in Routine Cases. Journal of Law & Courts.

Latinos, especially those who recently immigrated, face many obstacles in navigating the political and judicial environment in the United States. While prior scholarship suggests that racial minorities are more likely to be stopped by law enforcement for traffic violations and face harsher penalties for major crimes, little research has explored whether a defendant’s characteristics are influential in routine traffic court cases. Using an original database, this paper examines disparate treatment in speeding ticket reductions. The results indicate that Latino defendants are less likely to receive meaningful reductions to their charges. However, attorney representation greatly lessens the likelihood of disparate treatment for Latino drivers. As traffic court proceedings often represent the only interaction most people have with the judicial system, these findings have significant implications for racial equality, the administration of justice, attorney representation, and public opinion of the judiciary. 

Carolyn Field, Alexandra Bentz, Olivia Zizzo, Public Defenders in a Homicide Division: The Courtroom Workgroup, Plea Bargaining, Career Motivations, Views on the Causes of Crime, Perceptions of Prosecutors’ Views of Crime, and Dealing with Occupational Stress in their Daily Lives. Advances in Applied Sociology, 2023, 13, 290-308.

This study examines the courtroom workgroup, focusing on the plea-bargaining process for public defenders and their relationships with prosecutors in their courtroom workgroup. Using grounded theory method, this research examines semi-structured interviews of public defenders (N = 6) in the homicide division of a large East Coast American city. Qualitative analysis of the interviews reveals themes of disconnect in this jurisdiction’s courtroom workgroup. Public defenders of this jurisdiction perceive a stark contrast between their views on the causes of crime when compared to their perception of prosecutor’s views. Results further show that there is limited constructive communication between the defense and prosecuting attorneys in this courtroom workgroup. Interviews also revealed that the public defenders mostly saw structural societal issues as the causes of crime, whereas their perception of prosecutor’s views on crime was starkly different. A symbolic interactionist perspective of these results suggests that workgroup disconnect between the public defenders and prosecutors of this jurisdiction inhibits the plea bargain process, thus enhancing occupational stress and frustrations for the public defenders, who dealt with that stress in many unique ways in each of their personal lives.

Cory R. Lepage, Measuring Effectiveness of Holistic Defense: Social Service Provision and Justice System Outcomes. Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society.

A holistic public defense model is more comprehensive than a traditional model of public defense representation. Holistic defense seeks to address extralegal needs that are a nexus to the criminal charge rather than focusing solely on addressing the current criminal charge of the individual. This model is a collaborative approach that has traditionally included social workers and civil legal workers in a team approach with a criminal lawyer. Prior research on holistic defense has demonstrated efficacy in addressing individuals’ social and legal needs thus reducing recidivism and justice system costs. In this research, I describe and evaluate a pilot project of a holistic defense model employed in Southwest Alaska and outline similar models in use in other jurisdictions in the United States. This evaluation supports previous research that indicates the importance of addressing defendants’ extralegal needs in reducing recidivism and costs while improving individual case outcomes. I discuss the policy implications of this research and provide recommendations to enhance future evaluations of a holistic defense model.


Allen Goodman, Everyone Against Us Public Defenders and the Making of American Justice. University of Chicago Press.

[From the website:] ....Everyone against Us is Goodman’s testimony of his life as a public defender. In it, he documents his efforts to defend clients, both guilty and innocent, against routine police abuse, prosecutorial misconduct, and unjust sentencing. To work in criminal justice, Goodman shows, is to confront and combat vivid human suffering, of both victims and perpetrators. From sex trafficking, murder, and abuse to false conviction, torture, and systemic racism, Goodman describes the daily experiences that both rattled his worldview and motivated him to work ever harder. Part memoir, part exposé, Everyone against Us is the moving story of an embattled civil servant who staves off the worst abuses of the criminal justice system, at great personal cost.


...Based upon a survey of the membership of the Kentucky Bar Association, this paper considers the impact of the pandemic on attorney wellness in a variety of categories. These results demonstrated marked negative impacts on a variety of wellness measures which may result in significant reductions in service provision and efficacy for the people who need legal services. The pandemic made the practice of law harder and more stressful. Attorneys suffered increased incidence of substance abuse, alcohol consumption, and stress during the pandemic. These results were generally worse among those practicing in the areas of criminal law...