Three studies of attorney-client decision making were conducted in a public defender office. In studies 1 and 2 a structured interview was used to debrief attorneys regarding clients’ participation in their cases. Study 1 examined a sample of 200 felony and misdemeanor cases selected prospectively and resolved by any means (92.5% by plea); study 2 examined 200 felony and misdemeanor cases resolved by trial. Study 3 involved debriefing both attorneys and clients regarding perceptions of client participation in 35 recently closed felony cases. Attorneys doubted the competence of 8%–15% of clients charged with felonies and 3%-8% of clients charged with misdemeanors. In cases involving clients of doubted competence, attorneys often responded by means other than referral to mental health professionals for competence evaluations, As compared with clients whose competence was presumed, attorneys tended to view clients whose competence was doubted as less helpful and as less actively involved in their cases, but as actively involved in making key decisions. Defendants’ perceptions appeared to be roughly consistent with attorneys’ perceptions, allaying concerns that attorneys’ reports may be distorted in order to conform to expected norms.

Richard J. Bonnie et al., Client Abilities to Assist Counsel and Make Decisions in Criminal Cases: Findings from Three Studies, 18 Law & Human Behavior 427–435 (1994).