Indigent Defense Counsel Appointments and Criminal Case Outcomes: An Analysis of the Definition of Indigency and its Effect on Criminal Punishments
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Vecseri, Hannah Maria
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In the United States, the Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to counsel. In criminal cases where defendants are financially unable to hire an attorney, the Court requires courts to appoint attorneys to indigent defendants. In state courts, these appointed attorneys are paid by state and local governments. Federal courts have never defined a set of criteria by which eligibility for court-appointed attorneys might be consistently determined and instead have left the decision on whether a defendant is “financially unable to hire an attorney” up to the states and their judiciaries. This study analyzes McLennan County’s formula for determining indigency and evaluates whether defendants whose financial situations put them either above or below the indigency line experienced significantly different case outcomes as a result of whether they did or did not qualify for a court-appointed attorney.