Benjamin Scuderi is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University. In 2023, He will join the University of Michigan's Economics Department as an Assistant Professor.
To what extent is variation in case outcomes across indigent criminal defendants attributable to variation in the quality of their assigned counsel? This paper uses data on the outcomes of randomly-assigned cases from two Texas counties to answer that question. To infer attorney quality from observational data, I propose a novel, data-adaptive sample selection and re-weighting procedure that allows estimation of attorney effects by semiparametric propensity score methods. For defendants in felony cases, a one-standard-deviation decrease in attorney quality is associated with a 5.6 percentage-point increase in the probability of incarceration. Using estimates of attorney quality, I evaluate the effects of a program that allowed defendants to choose attorneys. Despite drastically shifting caseload burdens across attorneys, the program had no detectable effects on aggregate case outcomes.