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August 16, 2013

"Attorney Competence in an Age of Plea Bargaining -- and Econometrics"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Jeffrey Bellin now appearing on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This Essay explores the concept of attorney competence in a criminal justice system dominated by plea bargaining. It focuses, in particular, on the results of a widely-reported empirical study of Philadelphia murder cases that found “vast” differences in legal outcomes based on the type of defense attorney assigned to the case.

The first part of the Essay explores the implications of these empirical findings, which appear to stem from a counter-intuitive form of professional competence, persistence in convincing one’s client to plead guilty. The findings are particularly intriguing in light of the Supreme Court’s recent expansion of ineffective assistance of counsel claims into America’s untidy plea bargaining regime.

The second part of the Essay highlights the extraordinary empirical methods employed to unearth the findings described in Part I. As empiricists apply increasingly sophisticated tools to the extraordinarily complex criminal justice system, gaining insight into the advantages and shortcomings of various methodological approaches can be just as important for those interested in criminal justice as any particular study’s substantive contributions.

August 16, 2013 at 09:30 AM | Permalink


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