American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 544-561

First online:

Is It Legal Representation or Clients? : An Empirical Testing of Clients’ Performance and Their Legal Representation in Tulsa County Drug and DUI Programs

  • Bin LiangAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Oklahoma State University–Tulsa Email author 
  • , Michael A. LongAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Oklahoma State University
  • , Wendy BrameAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Briar Cliff University

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The importance of legal representation to a criminal defendant is widely accepted, but the quality of government-provided counsels (particularly public defenders) has continuously been questioned. Based on data from Tulsa County DUI and Drug programs in Oklahoma, the authors tested the impact of legal representation (public defender versus private counsel) on clients’ performance in program, measured by plea terms and program outcome. Initial bivariate analyses showed disparate effect of legal representation, as clients represented by private counsels received better plea terms and fared better in program outcome. This effect, however, disappeared once other variables were controlled. Instead, factors closely related to the clients themselves (e.g., demographic features and their criminal behaviors) significantly impacted their program performance.


Legal representation Public defender Private counsel DUI/Drug program