Most criminal defendants cannot afford to hire an attorney. To provide constitutionally mandated legal services, states commonly use either private court-appointed attorneys or a public defender organization. This paper investigates the relative efficacy of these two modes of indigent defense by comparing outcomes of codefendants assigned to different types of attorneys within the same case. Using data from San Francisco, I show that in multiple defendant cases, public defender assignment is plausibly as good as random. I find that public defenders reduce the probability of any prison sentence by 22% and the length of prison sentences by 10%.

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