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Make or Buy? The Provision of Indigent Defense Services in the United States

NCJ Number
Review of Economics and Statistics Volume: 104 Issue: 4 Dated: July 2022 Pages: 819-827
Yotam Shem-Tov
Date Published
July 2022
9 pages

Since most criminal defendants cannot afford to hire an attorney to provide constitutionally mandated legal services, states commonly use either private court-appointed attorneys or a public defender organization; this paper investigates the relative efficacy of these two modes of indigent defense by comparing outcomes of codefendants assigned to different types of attorneys within the same case.




Using data from San Francisco, I show that in multiple defendant cases, public defender assignment is plausibly as good as random. I find that public defenders reduce the probability of any prison sentence by 22% and the length of prison sentences by 10%. (Publisher abstract provided)