Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Criminal Justice

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, v, 225 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Alissa P Worden

Committee Members

Dana Peterson, James Acker, Sarah McLean, Andrew Davies


courts, defendants, distributive justice, procedural justice, qualitative, quality representation, Prisoners, Criminal justice, Administration of, Distributive justice, Criminal procedure

Subject Categories

Criminology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Psychology


The current study examines defendant perceptions of their recent experiences in one of two criminal courts in an urban-suburban county. Forty-three interviews were conducted with jail sentenced participants, during which they were asked about the perceived fairness of the case process and outcomes, as well as their relationship with their defense attorney for the case. This study was undertaken to answer four research questions: 1) Are the concepts of procedural and distributive justice related from the defendant perspective? 2) Are perceptions of procedural justice related to satisfaction with case outcomes? 3) Are perceptions of procedural justice related to satisfaction with the defendant’s defense attorney? 4) Are defendant perceptions of distributive justice related to satisfaction with case outcomes? Procedural and distributive justice, defined as fair process and fair outcomes respectively, have traditionally been theorized to explain how people develop assessments of satisfaction with outcomes, particularly in settings in which they have little to no process control (Holtfreter, 2016; Lind & Tyler, 1984). Applying these concepts to criminal justice settings, both policing and courts, has generally provided support for four main components of procedural justice (agency, respect, neutrality, and trustworthiness) and two main components of distributive justice (comparison and expectancy) (Rottman, 2006). That is, defendant assessments of these issues have been demonstrated to be predictive of outcome satisfaction assessments. Methodological and substantive gaps exist in the literature, both of which this study addresses. First, most studies have used close-ended survey questions, which may only allow for a fragmented understanding of these broad concepts. The current study utilized open-ended interviews to allow defendants to identify the issues most important to them, a strategy found useful by other researchers for detecting new components of procedural justice (De Mesmaecker, 2014). Second, despite evidence that distributive justice is unique from procedural justice, and has its own impacts on outcome satisfaction, to date researchers have not successfully distinguished a single model for how the two concepts interact when examining defendant perceptions of criminal justice (Hauenstein et al., 2001). While the current study cannot solve this issue, it does contribute to the discussion by suggesting a model of the relationship based upon connections made directly by defendants when discussing fair process and outcomes. This study also contributes by providing more support for several newly identified components of procedural justice, as well as some of the traditional components of both concepts. Third, the seemingly related literature on attorney-client relationships has yet to be examined in the context of procedural and distributive justice, an issue explored in the current study. Defendants related issues of procedural justice to the perceived quality of their attorney, suggesting that future research should examine both issues together. Finally, implications for future research are discussed.