Overworking Public Defenders

45 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2023 Last revised: 23 Feb 2024

Date Written: March 27, 2023


Most U.S. criminal defendants are represented by public defenders (PDs), who consistently face higher caseloads than recommended by professional guidelines. I study the effect of high caseloads using novel data from three U.S. counties and quasi-random variation in case assignment timing. Higher caseloads do not change conviction rates but lengthen sentences significantly: shifting a PD from the 25th to 75th percentile of their caseload nearly doubles average sentence length. PDs facing high caseloads maintain time spent on high-severity felonies at the expense of lower severity cases. These results suggest counties may realize substantial cost-savings on incarcerations by hiring additional PDs.

Keywords: indigent defense, workloads

JEL Classification: H42, J22, K14, K41

Suggested Citation

Caspi, Aviv, Overworking Public Defenders (March 27, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4401227 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4401227

Aviv Caspi (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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