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An analysis of the performance of federal indigent defense counsel

Iyengar, Radha (2007) An analysis of the performance of federal indigent defense counsel. NBER working papers (13187). National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, USA.

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The right to an equal and fair trial regardless of wealth is a hallmark of American jurisprudence. To ensure this right, the government pays attorneys to represent financially needy clients. In the U.S. federal court system, indigent defendants are represented by either public defenders who are salaried employees of the court or private attorneys, known as Criminal Justice Act (CJA) attorneys, who are compensated on an hourly basis. This study measures differences in performance of these types of attorneys and explores some potential causes for these differences. Exploiting the use of random case assignment between the two types of attorneys, an analysis of federal criminal case level data from 1997-2001 from 51 districts indicates that public defenders perform significantly better than CJA panel attorneys in terms of lower conviction rates and sentence lengths. An analysis of data from three districts linking attorney experience, wages, law school quality and average caseload suggests that these variables account for over half of the overall difference in performance. These systematic differences in performance disproportionately affect minority and immigrant communities and as such may constitute a civil rights violation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2007 by Radha Iyengar
Divisions: Economics
Centre for Economic Performance
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
K Law > K Law (General)
JEL classification: H - Public Economics > H4 - Publicly Provided Goods
J - Labor and Demographic Economics > J3 - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
K - Law and Economics > K4 - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2011 13:09
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 23:10

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