Court Appointed Lawyers in Texas

Attorney Marsh
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I’m going to write this blog post in two parts. The first part will be about what’s on everyone’s mind when they’re arrested and can’t afford a lawyer. The Second blog post will be your Sixth Amendment right to have a lawyer for your criminal charges.

I want to explain a bit about Court appointed lawyers in Texas. Unfortunately, Court appointed lawyers have a terrible reputation across the country. I can’t change that view with these blog posts. However, I can give you my perspective on Court appointed lawyers in Texas and hopefully it changes your outlook on them. Like anything else in life, there are good lawyers and there are bad lawyers. Don’t let a bad few spoil the bunch.

How the Court Appointment System Works in Texas

The Court Appointment System in Texas depends on the county where you’ve been charged with a crime. Some counties have Public Defender Offices, others contract criminal defense services out to large law firms, but most common of all is the Appointment Wheel. The Appointment Wheel has a list of lawyers who are qualified in the area of criminal law.

First, you have to qualify financially for a Court appointed lawyer. To qualify financially means you have to fill out paperwork, usually while you’re in Court, showing the Court that you can’t afford a lawyer and that your income and expenses are just about even. If you qualify financially, the judge appoints you a lawyer. How long does that take? Well, the Judge will usually name someone on the spot and that lawyer will get in Contact with you within a few days. The Court notifies the lawyer and then the lawyer has to call you within a few days.

The qualifications for the Appointment Wheel also vary from county to county. Some counties require a number of years experience in criminal law and a certain number of jury trials. As the criminal charges get more and more severe, the qualifications for the Court appointed lawyers increase. For example, you need a lot more experience to deal with an armed robbery case than a public intoxication case. Despite this, a lot of people still hold on to myths about Court appointed lawyers.

The Myth of Court Appointed Lawyers

Court appointed lawyers have a terrible reputation. We have images in our mind about our views against them. This post branches off of the Myths About Criminal Justice post. Similarly, many people have the attitude that they’d almost rather have no lawyer than a Court appointed lawyer. But why?

The cartoon to the left shows the man basically saying that he’d rather take the money from the Court and hire his own private lawyer. The myth is somehow that Court appointed lawyers won’t work on your case, or if they do, they’ll halfheartedly work on your case. Court appointed lawyers have to be the bottom of the barrel – right? Why else would they take Court appointed cases?

There is also the view that these lawyers won’t “fight for you.” Other views are that Court appointed lawyers are tired, over-worked, and that they get your cases confused with the hundreds of others that they have. They won’t know your name and they won’t know your face. People also think that their Court appointed lawyer is going to sell them short and get them terrible deals. In short, having a Court appointed lawyer will leave you worse off than you were before. They’re false allies. They’re really working for the prosecution.

The Reality of Court Appointed Lawyers

The truth about Court appointed lawyers is that most of them have their own practices in Texas and they fight hard for their clients. Criminal defense lawyers for the most part generally love helping their clients who are in tough spots. Here in Central Texas – Williamson and Travis Counties specifically, have deep pools of Court appointed lawyers. The criminal defense lawyers that I keep as close colleagues are extremely qualified and knowledgeable about the Criminal Justice system in Texas.

The bottom line is that there are many lawyers on the Court appointment list that I would love to have represent me. I think that the overworked, disorganized, and uncaring view of Court appointed lawyers isn’t justified. Lawyers have ethical obligations to help their clients to the best of their ability and within the boundaries of the law.

Summary

Court appointed lawyers get a bad rap. The media creates and continues the myth all Court appointed lawyers are incompetent, overworked, and halfhearted. This is not the reality. Court appointed lawyers serve a valuable function in society. Many people can’t afford to hire a lawyer period. When your freedom is on the line, you want all the help you can get.