Poor Philadelphians charged with murder with court-appointed lawyers are more often found guilty and serve longer prison terms than those represented by public defenders, says a new federally funded Rand Corp. study reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The study says 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.
Rand researchers, who reviewed 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. 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.