This is a very bad result of politicians being so eager to cut funding for public defenders:
Poor Philadelphians who are charged with murder and have a court-appointed lawyer are more often found guilty and serve longer prison terms than those represented by public defenders, a new federally funded RAND Corp. study finds.
The study, released Friday night by the California-based think tank, concludes that public defenders in Philadelphia reduce their clients’ murder conviction rate by 19 percent and lower the probability their client gets a life sentence by 62 percent.
The RAND researchers, who based their conclusions on a review of cases of 3,157 Philadelphians charged with murder from 1994 to 2005, said the findings show “an enormous and troubling chasm” between the effectiveness of defenders – who have a highly regarded team handling homicide cases – and appointed lawyers.
“Our findings, from the fifth-largest city in the United States, raise questions regarding the fundamental fairness of the criminal justice system and whether it provides equal justice under the law,” the paper reads.
The study says several institutional factors contribute to the disparity, including a flat-fee payment for court-appointed lawyers, now being challenged in court.
Lawyers get a flat fee to prepare a case for trial: $1,333 if the case is resolved before trial and $2,000 if the case goes to trial. After the first day of trial, lawyers get $200 for three hours or less of daily court time and $400 for more than three hours.
Pennsylvania is the only state to leave the responsibility for funding defenses for indigent murder defendants to the counties – a special hardship for cash-strapped larger cities such as Philadelphia, where impoverished defendants account for 95 percent of murder cases.