Also, today’s standards for the number of cases that public defenders handle are no longer working, with these caseloads leading to an exodus from the profession. The study recommends new standards be adopted to address the issue and protect the public’s fundamental right to effective legal representation in criminal court.
Researchers conducted a comprehensive review and analysis of 17 state-level public defense workload studies conducted between 2005 and 2022. The research then employed the Delphi method to facilitate the efforts of a panel of 33 expert criminal defense attorneys from across the country. The data quantified the average amount of time needed to provide constitutionally appropriate representation for adult criminal cases.
- High-severity felony cases required the most time, on average: cases with a possible sentence of life without parole, 286 hours; murder cases, 248 hours; sex crimes cases, 167 hours; and other high-severity felony cases, 99 hours.
- Mid- and low-severity felony cases required an average of 57 and 35 hours, respectively.
- High- and low-severity cases for driving under the influence required 33 and 19 hours, respectively.
- High- and low-severity misdemeanor cases required an average of 22.3 and 13.8 hours, respectively.
- Probation or parole violation cases required an average of 13.5 hours.
EXISTING NATIONAL PUBLIC DEFENSE WORKLOAD STANDARDS ARE OUTDATED, NOT EMPIRICALLY BASED, AND INADEQUATE.
- The 1973 National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (NAC) standards fail to differentiate among types of felonies, giving equal weight to a burglary, a sexual assault, and a homicide.
- Using the 1973 NAC standards creates a risk of excessive workloads.
NEW NATIONAL WORKLOAD STANDARDS BETTER REFLECT MODERN CRIMINAL DEFENSE PRACTICE AND PROFESSIONAL AND ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
- The new standards reflect expert attorneys’ experiences with current criminal defense practice, including digital discovery and forensic evidence, as well as the expanded scope of a criminal defense lawyer’s obligations, including advising clients on collateral consequences.
- The new workload standards can be used to assist public defense agencies, policymakers, and other stakeholders in evaluating defender workloads.
My opinion? Excellent study by the Rand Corporation. Many of my colleagues are highly-trained and extremely capable public defenders. However, public defense attorneys with excessive caseloads cannot simply give appropriate time and attention to each client.
Excessive caseloads violate ethics rules and inevitably cause harm. Overburdened attorneys are forced to choose cases or activities to focus on, such that many cases are resolved without appropriate diligence. A justice system burdened by triage risks unreliability, denying all people who rely on it — victims, witnesses, defendants, and their families and communities — efficient, equal, and accurate justice.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.