The purpose of this study was to measure the difference between court-appointed private attorneys and public defenders in relationship to the outcomes of homicide cases in Philadelphia between 1995 and 2004.
One in five indigent murder defendants in Philadelphia were randomly assigned representation by the Defender Association of Philadelphia while the remainder received court-appointed private attorneys. To identify individuals who were initially assigned to the Defender Association based on the one-in-five rule, the research team relied on case logs provided by the Defender Association tracking their murder cases, including both cases initially assigned to the Defender Association and replacement cases. Replacement cases were cases assigned to the Defender from court appointments to replace cases that were originally assigned to the Defender at preliminary arraignment but that the Defender could not represent because of a conflict of interest or because the defendant hired a private lawyer.
To measure the difference in homicide case outcomes between court-appointed private attorneys and public defenders, the research team collected data on 3,157 defendants charged with murder in Philadelphia Municipal Court between 1995 and 2004, using records provided by the Philadelphia Courts (First Judicial District of Pennsylvania). Researchers measured the identity of the defendant, basic demographics (race, gender, and age), charges, attorney of record, and outcome. The Philadelphia Courts also provided the research team with a separate database containing similar information that tracked Court of Common Pleas cases that corresponded to the municipal cases, and a database tracking changes in attorney assignments over time for a subset of defendants. These databases were supplemented by both the Municipal Court and Court of Common Pleas dockets for all of the cases in the sample from the Pennsylvania Judiciary's online docket database.
Data from the dockets were also used to supplement missing information from the Philadelphia Court database. One key variable available in the dockets (but not in the files the research team received from the Philadelphia Courts) was the defendant's ZIP code of residence, which the research team used to consider neighborhood characteristics. Data on economic and social characteristics of the residential ZIPs of indigent defendants were drawn from the 2000 Census.
To calculate expected prison time served for each defendant, the research team used data from the National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP). The NCRP included individual-level information about state prison admissions and releases (including deaths) for participating states, and included information about alleged offenses, sentencing, and time served. Between 1999 and 2003, the NCRP included records for 15,721 defendants who were released from prison after serving a sentence for a murder conviction. For each combination of age at prison admission/sentencing outcome, the principal investigators computed the cell average time served across prisoners in the NCRP sample, and then applied that average to Philadelphia defendants who fell into that same age/sentence cell.
The initial sample was 3,412 defendants charged with murder in Philadelphia municipal court between 1994 and 2005. However, 46 defendants were eliminated from the sample because of missing data or ambiguous information on counsel assignment, 193 defendants were ineligible for appointed counsel based on lack of indigence, and another 16 cases were eliminated because they had not yet been resolved, were missing Court of Common Pleas records, or contained other data anomalies. Thus, the final sample is 3,157 defendants charged with murder in Philadelphia between 1995 and 2004.
All defendants charged with murder in Philadelphia municipal court between 1995 and 2004.
Philadelphia Courts (First Judicial District of Pennsylvania), Municipal Court case records, 1994-2005
Municipal Court and Court of Common Pleas dockets, Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System web portal, 2011
National Corrections Reporting Program, 1999-2003
United States Census, 2000
Philadelphia Courts (First Judicial District of Pennsylvania), Court of Common Pleas case records, 1994-2005
administrative records data
This study contains a total of 47 variables including public defender representation, defendant demographics, ZIP code of residence, ZIP code characteristics, prior criminal history, case characteristics, case outcomes, and case handling procedures. Public defender representation variables include whether the defendant was initially assigned to the Defender Association and whether the defendant was represented by the Defender Association at formal arraignment. Defendant demographics include male and black indicator variables, race, and age. ZIP code characteristics include fraction of males aged 18-64 in the zip code of residence who are veterans, median household income, median house value, median rent, percent Black, fraction of households in the zip code of residence with a single female household head, percent Hispanic, fraction of adults in the zip code of residence without a high school degree, fraction of people in the zip code of residence who had moved within the past 5 years, share of household who are renters, poverty rate, total population, and unemployment rate. Criminal history variables include number of previous aggravated assault, assault, burglary, criminal, drug, robbery, theft, and weapons charges. Case characteristics variables include the year of filing, number of charges filed, number of murder counts, whether there was any weapons or conspiracy charge, and the number of defendants in case. Case outcomes variables include whether the defendant plead or was found guilty of at least one charge, number of charges found guilty, whether the defendant was found guilty of murder, minimum and maximum sentences, whether the defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment or death, and expected time served. Case handling procedures variables indicate whether the defendant had a waiver trial and whether the defendant plead guilty.