November 27, 2004
Legal costs for indigent defendants rise

With the passage of the Fair Defense Act in 2001, this should be no surprise.

The cost of providing lawyers for poor defendants in Harris County has risen about 80 percent since the Legislature set new criminal defense standards in 2001.


For the 12 months ending Sept. 30, indigent defense costs in local felony, misdemeanor and juvenile courts neared $20 million, compared with $11 million three years ago.


The number of indigent cases in Dallas is falling, but in Harris County it has shot up 75 percent in the past two years, from 42,667 to 74,879. The number of defendants who are indigent rose from 38 percent to 61 percent.

Troy McKinney, who was president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association when the act was implemented, said one reason for the latter increase is that judges are setting higher bonds, causing people to remain in jail longer.

"Five years ago a first-degree felony might have a $20,000 bond," McKinney said. "Today, it may have a bond of $50,000. So the odds of remaining in custody are greater." Defendants in jail "get an appointed lawyer almost automatically."

Yet another cost of Git Tuff On Crime. Maybe a wee bit more judgment here would be helpful, you know?

The question of court-appointed defense attorneys versus a public defender ysstem is something I'd like to see studied in more detail. My opinion is that for a county as big as Harris, a public defender system would make more fiscal sense, but that's just my opinion. I'd like to see someone delve into the data and come up with some decent facts before I commit on that. I'd also like to hear Scott's opinion when his holiday hiatus is over.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 27, 2004 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack