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Notable Recent Publications, November 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


Ronald Burns, Brie Diamond & Kendra N. Bowen, "Does type of counsel matter? A Comparison of outcomes in cases involving retained- and assigned counsel." Journal of Crime and Justice.

Existing research yields inconsistent results with regard to differences among type of counsel in criminal cases. Studies in the area generally compare the effectiveness of indigent versus retained counsel, and public defenders versus assigned counsel, and focus on broad categories of crime. The present work expands this literature through comparing case outcomes between assigned and retained counsel in the processing of criminal trespassing cases. It also contributes through measuring type of counsel in relation to the imposition of charge enhancements, a variable largely absent from the research literature. Results suggest that type of counsel does impact case outcomes, as defendants with assigned counsel were more likely to have a charge enhancement, be sentenced to jail, and spend more time in jail. Focusing on less serious offenses provides a more reflective account of what often occurs in court given that most crimes are less serious in nature. 

Fanny Ramirez, "Interpretive and Interpersonal Challenges of Digital Evidence for Public Defenders." 3/2, Human Communication & Technology, 80-96.

This study uses an ethnography of a large public defender office in the U.S. to argue that the rise of digital evidence is a communication phenomenon that brings new evidentiary interpretation and interpersonal challenges for public defenders and their low socioeconomic status clients. The study’s theoretical framework draws on communication privacy management theory, context collapse, sensemaking, and sensegiving. Findings holistically show that public defenders now have to engage in collaborative interpretive work with clients to unpack the meaning and context of digital evidence. Content penned by young clients and communications related to domestic violence cases are especially challenging to interpret. Findings also show that access to highly personal data is a double-edged sword for attorney-client interactions in that it can cause feelings of discomfort for attorneys while also holding the potential to humanize clients.

New funding awards 

Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center, Building Better Indigent Defense Systems (National Institute of Justice).

[T]he Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center will collect qualitative and quantitative data on indigent defense services in five jurisdictions that recently created a public defender office or a MAC...[to] examine three specific issues. First, are ad hoc defense delivery systems more or less likely provide indigent people with counsel than structured defense delivery systems such as defender offices and MACs? Second, does replacing an ad hoc system with a structured system impact case outcomes, both for indigent defendants and all other criminal defendants in the local legal system? And third, are the changes associated with the introduction of structured defense delivery systems equally distributed across defendants with different demographic characteristics? The resulting study will integrate qualitative assessment of changes in policy, practice, and procedure in each site with difference-in-difference statistical comparisons that quantify impacts of organizational change on appointed counsel representation rates and defendants’ outcomes in court. Drawing on the Center’s research-for-reform model, this study will generate actionable recommendations for policymakers and indigent defense leaders. 

Center for Justice Innovation, 21st Century Criminal Defense Practice: An Examination of the Impact of Holistic Defense in Wayne County, Michigan (National Institute of Justice).

[T]he Center for Justice Innovation proposes to work with Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit (NDS Detroit) and the Wayne County Indigent Defense Services Department (IDSD) to conduct a mixed-methods evaluation of NDS Detroit’s holistic defense model. The evaluation will leverage the existing random assignment of felony cases in Wayne County, Michigan to estimate the causal impact of holistic practice... [M]odels will examine whether NDS Detroit clients experience (1) more positive felony case outcomes, (2) less restrictive pretrial conditions and fewer instances of pretrial failure, (3) fewer and less severe instances of recidivism, and (4) greater engagement with holistic resources relative to assigned counsel attorneys... The research team will produce a summary of major findings to be submitted to NIJ, two topical briefs for practitioner audiences, and two journal manuscripts.

John Donohue, Emily Galvin-Almanza, and Rebecca Solow, Transforming Access to Justice: An Evaluation of Collaborative Public Defense (Stanford Impact Labs).

Partners for Justice trains non-attorney Advocates to collaborate with public defenders under the collaborative defense model, ultimately providing clients with wraparound support as well as desirable legal outcomes, all without compromising community safety. Through a randomized controlled trial, implemented by PFJ offices in Los Angeles, our research team will deepen the current understanding of collaborative defense’s impact on outcomes such as pretrial detention, sentencing severity, case dismissals, and the uptake of social services.