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Public Policy and Administration


Linda Day


Anecdotal evidence supports the belief among indigent individuals who are assigned defense counsel that they would be better represented by privately retained counsel. This perspective jeopardizes attorney effectiveness by reducing communication and trust between the attorney and client. Research on the effectiveness of counsel is sparse. The purpose of this quantitative study was to bridge this gap in knowledge by comparing the effectiveness of privately retained and publicly appointed counsel between 2008 and 2013, both before and after the imposition of state-wide compensation limitations on publicly appointed defense counsel. The theoretical framework was Stuntz's theory, which stresses that one part of the criminal justice system will be compensated for elsewhere in the system. Research questions focused on the success rates of publicly funded and privately retained counsel in jury trials in a large state district court in New England. Data were collected from court records and analyzed using tests of proportions and a binary logistic regression to determine the success rates of the types of counsel and whether appointed counsels' relative effectiveness changed after the compensation limitations were imposed in 2011. The results indicated that there was no significant difference in acquittal rates between counsel groups or for either counsel group before and after the imposition of the statewide compensation limits. Implications for positive social change include educating defendants on the effectiveness of publicly appointed counsel to enhance the trust within these attorney-client relationships, and improving the quality of discourse in legislative deliberations focused on weighing budget cuts to appointed counsel compensation with the risk to the fair administration of justice.