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‘Data for Defenders’: Valuable New Resource for Defense Counsel and Pro Se Litigants

by Jordan Arizmendi

A new open access database called “Data for Defenders,” a project of MDefenders program at the University of Michigan Law School, is a valuable tool for defenders. The resources available in the database – including briefs, motions, and transcripts – will instantly broaden the tools for defenders across the country.

According to MDefenders, the database “promotes creative and evidence-based advocacy through strategic and effective use of social science research. Social science draws on a wide range of disciplines – including psychology, public health, statistics, communication studies, and economics – to explain how and why people, groups, and societies do the things that they do. These studies and statistics allow defenders to communicate more effectively with judges and juries, better understand the implicit biases that impact the court system, and support the substantive legal arguments they raise on behalf of clients.”

The director of MDefenders and the Public Defender Training Institute, Professor Eve Brensike Primus said, “There are a lot of lawyers who go into public defense because they believe in social justice and want to help people. They’re trained as lawyers to read cases and statutes, but a lot of law schools don’t offer training on how to conduct social science research.”

The ease of use and benefits of the database are instantly apparent as soon as one visits the website at datafordefenders.org. First, the user chooses the jurisdiction from a drop-down menu. Then, the user chooses the category in which they are interested – for example, Bite Mark Analysis, DNA, Jury Psychology, Shaken Baby Syndrome, etc. Finally, once the user has narrowed down their selection, a list of relevant and downloadable court documents appears. The database provides a wealth of extremely useful information and tools at the user’s fingertips.

In an interview with Criminal Legal News, Professor Primus said, “We tried to organize it in an incredibly user-friendly way. For every document in the database, there is a description that will pinpoint exactly which pages have the relevant information. It’s also searchable by a number of different categories – date, jurisdiction, topic, key terms. I imagine that indigent defendants who are representing themselves could look through the database both to find support for arguments they already are raising and to generate new ideas for potential issues to raise. For indigent persons whose cases are at postconviction stages, where the appointment of counsel is often discretionary, explaining that there is complicated social science research that supports their arguments might help them convince a court to appoint a lawyer to assist them. Defendants can also use the research discussed in this database to show the need for expert assistance when asking courts to appoint all kinds of experts.”  

Source: datafordefenders.org

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