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'Insider' Justice - Defense Attorneys and the Handling of Felony Cases

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 77 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer 1986) Pages: 379-417
Date Published
39 pages

Specialization of some attorneys in criminal law and the establishment of indigent defense systems have resulted in attorneys who have insider status in the court community in some jurisdictions.


This study examined the impact of this status on the handling of felony cases in nine court systems in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Case data were collected on almost 7,500 felony defendants, and interviews were conducted with judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. In addition to differences between insiders and outsiders, case characteristics, and case outcomes, the effects of various environmental and structural variables among jurisdictions were examined. While a few patterns emerged in the analysis, these related largely to overall disposition patterns rather than to the composition of plea packages. Insiders in three counties were less likely to obtain dismissals for their clients than were outsiders, thus showing higher overall conviction rates and guilty plea rates. No findings emerged in which insiders did better than outsiders in plea packages. A few other scattered findings suggest that insiders served as creators and protectors of the status quo. Overall, findings are consistent with a consensus perspective in which insiders play a crucial role in the development and evaluation of norms governing particular kinds of cases. Once established, these norms affect both insiders and outsiders in a routine and systematic way. Exceptions would be based on case characteristics, not interpersonal relations. 43 footnotes.

Date Published: January 1, 1986