An Empirical Study of Public Defender Effectiveness: Self-Selection by the 'Marginally Indigent'

33 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2011 Last revised: 29 May 2012

See all articles by Morris B. Hoffman

Morris B. Hoffman

Second Judicial District Court Judge, State of Colorado

Paul H. Rubin

Emory University - Department of Economics

Joanna Shepherd

Emory University School of Law

Abstract

An econometric study of all felony cases filed in Denver, Colorado, in 2002, shows that public defenders achieved poorer outcomes than their privately retained counterparts, measured by the actual sentences defendants received. But this study suggests that the traditional explanation for this difference - underfunding resulting in overburdened public defenders - may not tell the whole story. The authors discovered a large segment of what they call “marginally indigent” defendants, who appear capable of hiring private counsel if the charges against them are sufficiently serious. These results suggest that at least one explanation for poor public defender outcomes may be that public defender clients, by self selection, tend to have less defensible cases. If marginally indigent defendants can find the money to hire private counsel when the charges are sufficiently serious, perhaps they can also find the money when they are innocent, or think they have a strong case.

Keywords: attorney effectiveness, public defender, private attorney, indigent defendant

JEL Classification: K00, K14, K41, K41

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Morris B. and Rubin, Paul H. and Shepherd, Joanna, An Empirical Study of Public Defender Effectiveness: Self-Selection by the 'Marginally Indigent'. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 3, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1934387

Morris B. Hoffman

Second Judicial District Court Judge, State of Colorado ( email )

Denver, CO
United States

Paul H. Rubin

Emory University - Department of Economics ( email )

1602 Fishburne Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-931-0493 (Phone)
630-604-9609 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.economics.emory.edu/Rubi.htm

Joanna Shepherd (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-8957 (Phone)

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