Attitudes toward defendants with substance-related charges: An analysis of a national sample of criminal defense attorneys

Joseph J. Avery, Jordan Starck, Yuanda Xu, Jonathan D. Avery, Joel Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: While a large percentage of criminal offenders suffer from substance use disorders (SUDs), virtually nothing is known about the attitudes criminal defense attorneys possess toward their clients who are facing substance-related charges. This is a serious concern, as the burden of steering individuals with SUDs into treatment often falls to criminal defense attorneys. The goal of this study was to examine the attitudes of criminal defense attorneys toward individuals who have been accused of drug crimes. Methods: A questionnaire was sent to criminal defense attorneys (N = 1,933) from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It was comprised of (i) demographic information and (ii) a version of the 11-item Medical Condition Regard Scale (MCRS). Results: Criminal defense attorneys held generally positive attitudes toward clients with substance-related charges, but there was a significant divergence in attitudes between private and public attorneys, with the latter showing both greater familiarity with and better attitudes toward this same group of clients. These differences were impactful: worse attitudes toward clients strongly correlated with greater predictions that the clients would reoffend. Conclusion and Scientific Significance: Given the magnitude of the incarcerated population with SUDs and the centrality of defense attorneys in the treatment process, especially its initiation, the divergence in attitudes between private and public criminal defense attorneys is concerning. There is a clear need for increased collaboration between physicians and attorneys, with an aim of increasing the number of individuals with SUDs receiving proper treatment (Am J Addict 2018;XX:1–7).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-645
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal on Addictions
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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