US – Estimates of Time Spent in Capital and Non-Capital Murder Cases

A Statistical Analysis of Survey Data from Clark County Defense Attorneys
Terance D. Miethe, PhD.
Department of Criminal Justice
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
February 21, 2012

I. Introduction
A survey was designed to provide average estimates of the time spent at various stages of criminal processing for the defense of capital and non-capital murder cases. Defense attorneys were asked to use their personal experiences over the past three years to estimate the number of hours they spent in pretrial, trial, penalty, and post-conviction activities in a “typical” capital and non-capital murder case. Separate questions were asked about their experiences as “lead attorney” and “second chair” in these typical cases. A total of 22 defense attorneys completed the survey. The largest group of survey respondents were attorneys within the Public Defender’s office (n=10), followed by the Special Public Defender’s office (n=9) and the Office of Assigned Counsel (n=3). To provide some context for the time estimates provided by these defense attorneys, this survey data was also supplemented with general case processing information on a sample of 138 murder cases sentenced in District Court between 2009 and 2011. The Clark County Court’s electronic record system was used to identify these murder cases and to construct summary statistics on case processing (e.g., average time between court filing and sentencing; number of total meetings with parties present, number of orders and motions filed). These court statistics were analyzed separately for each major type of sentence (i.e., yearly maximum sentences, life with possibility of parole, life without possibility of parole, and death sentences). For the survey data included in this report, the median score (i.e., the middle score of a distribution) is used as the average estimate of time spent at each stage of criminal processing. The median is the most appropriate measure for these analyses because (1) it minimizes the impact of extreme ratings and (2) the distribution of time estimates across respondents is not normally distributed. Under these conditions, the median, rather than the mean, is the appropriate summary measure of central tendency.

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