This article analyzes the results of a 2018 survey conducted with Colorado residents regarding their perceptions of attorneys. The ages of the respondents ranged from 18 to 69. The mean age was 37 and the median age was 31. Tree versions of the survey, each with slight differences, were used to see how variations in the questions affected responses.
When asked about their overall impression of defense attorneys and prosecutors, respondents viewed prosecutors slightly more positively. However, more significant findings were discovered when considering respondents’ backgrounds.
Younger respondents (aged 18 to 29) viewed defense attorneys more favorably than they viewed prosecutors. Liberal respondents were significantly more likely to have a positive view of defense attorneys, while conservatives were significantly more likely to have a positive view of prosecutors. There was no significant difference between males and females or between those who had served on a jury and those who had not. Respondents with a law degree were no different from the overall average, showing the same slight preference for prosecutors over defense attorneys.
Respondents who reported they “frequently watch legal dramas on TV” had a more positive view of both defense attorneys and prosecutors. Studies show that while lawyers are disproportionately portrayed negatively in movies, they are generally portrayed positively in television. These studies echo the same findings here: people who consume television legal dramas have a more positive view of attorneys than the general public. While the positive outlook on both prosecution and defense attorneys may seem odd, given their extremely adversarial nature, it illustrates both sides of the alleged “CSI Effect.” One side is that the show has resulted in juries being more demanding of prosecutors, requiring extensive DNA evidence from the state in even minor cases. The other side is that the show has resulted in great deference to the prosecution, treating any scientific evidence they produce as virtually infallible.2
Public Defender Perceptions
Respondents were asked two questions regarding whether they would choose a free public defender or pay for a private attorney. The first question involved an offense with a one-year minimum sentence and the other, a five-year minimum. To analyze price sensitivity, different versions of the survey contained different dollar amounts for how much the private attorney would cost. Overall, respondents chose the private attorney 84% of the time. There was no significant correlation between the cost of the attorney and a defendant’s willingness to pay. Note, however, that this...