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Investigation of Effect of Hired Counsel on Capital Murder Indictments in Harris County

Professor Scott Phillips published a brief with the American Constitution Society on February 23, 2010 regarding the effects of hired counsel versus court-appointed attorney’s in capital murder cases in Harris County. The report investigated the 504 adults indicted with capital murder in the country between 1992-1999. The brief compared the outcome of cases where the defendant hired counsel with cases where the defendant had court-appointed counsel and found that “hiring counsel for the entire case not only eliminated the chance of death, but also dramatically increased the chance of an acquittal;” while “hiring counsel for a portion of the case substantially reduces the chance of death.”

Harris County, which until recently was known as the capital of capital punishment, currently provides court-appointed attorneys to defendant’s unable to hire counsel of their own. Harris County officials who now suggest a hybrid system of court appointed counsel along with a public defender to oversee the defense of indicted persons is a step in the right direction according to Professor Phillips. However, Phillips argues that the public defender must be funded at a level proportional to the district attorney’s office.
To read Professor Phillips brief in its entirety, it is available through the American Constitution Society.