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Research the System
Is there a difference between conviction rates for defendants using public counsel and those represented by private attorneys in federal and state courts?

About 90 percent of the federal defendants and 75 percent of the defendants in the most populous counties were found guilty -- regardless of whether their attorneys were private or public defenders.


If convicted, do defendants face different sentences, based on their type of representation?

In federal courts, defendants who were found guilty and were represented by publicly funded attorneys were incarcerated at a higher rate (88 percent) than those who hired their own legal defense (77 percent). In the most populous counties, 71 percent of publicly defended clients were incarcerated compared to 54 percent represented by private counsel.


How does the time actually spent in jail compare for publicly and privately defended clients?

On average, sentence lengths for defendants sent to jail or prison were slightly shorter for those with public defenders than for those who hired their own attorneys. In federal district court, defendants with public defenders were given just under five years on average, and those with private attorneys were given slightly more than five years. In large state courts, those represented by public defenders received an average of two and one-half years and those with privately hired attorneys received three years.


Is race an indicator in the likelihood of being represented by public counsel?

At the state level, African-American and Hispanic inmates reported receiving publicly funded counsel about equally often -- 77 percent and 73 percent, respectively. White state prison inmates reported having used publicly appointed counsel in 69 percent of cases.

In federal prison, African-American inmates are more likely than either Whites or Hispanics to have been defended by public counsel: The percentages break down this way: 65 percent for Blacks, 57 percent for Whites and 56 percent for Hispanics.

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