Court Appointed Attorneys
Every person charged with a crime in the United States has a constitutional right to an attorney. The Texas Legislature also passed the Fair Defense Act to aid in delivering indigent defense. Criminal defense attorneys across the state assist indigent defendants by taking appointed cases at significantly reduced prices.
Can I trust a court-appointed attorney?
One of the most common questions about court-appointed attorneys is whether they can be trusted with your case. The simple answer is it depends entirely on who the court-appointed attorney is. There are court-appointed attorneys who are excellent, and there are court-appointed attorneys who are not sought after. Certainly, a generalized mistrust of court-appointed attorneys is unwarranted.
What’s the difference between getting a court appointed attorney and hiring your own?
There are some key difference in a court-appointed attorney and a retained attorney. The first and most important is choice. When you retain an attorney, you have the ability to choose and retain the person you believe will be the best criminal defense attorney for your case. Most people don’t want to leave their freedom and criminal record to the luck of the court-appointment wheel. This choice is especially meaningful when you are looking for an attorney on a specialized case, such as a DWI, sexual assault allegation, white collar crime, federal crime, or for a case going to trial. You have no choice in who your court-appointed attorney will be. The second major difference is price. Court-appointed attorneys are not free in most cases, especially if you bond out of jail. The court will order that you pay back the court-appointed attorney fees as a bond condition and as a condition of probation. That fee, however, will be much less than that of a retained attorney. Retained attorneys, on the other hand, vary greatly in price. Attorneys who require low down payments are generally in the volume business and often provide the same level of service a court-appointed attorney provides. Attorneys who charge at least half down are generally not in the volume business and can provide personalized attention. A final major difference between court-appointed attorneys and retained attorneys is the level of communication between the attorney, client, and often the client’s family. This is discussed in further detail below.
Is it true that you get what you pay for when you hire a retained attorney?
While that is true in most cases, it is not an absolute truth. It is true that the more experienced and qualified an attorney is, the more the attorney will cost. However, who you pick as your attorney should be based on how comfortable you feel with that attorney.
How do I get a court-appointed attorney?
To ask the court for a court-appointed attorney, you must first fill out a written application for the appointment of counsel provided to you by the court. Provide the court with any financial information requested. The court will take into account your stated ability to pay, the number of dependents you have, as well as other factors such as whether you bonded out, who paid the bond, how much the bond was etc. Generally speaking, individuals who receive government support will qualify for a court-appointed attorney. The Fair Defense Act defines an indigent person as any person with a household income at or below the Living Wage Calculator guidelines as established and revised periodically by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and whose liquid assets do not exceed $15,000.
Can you pick your court-appointed attorney?
No. You do not get to pick your court-appointed attorney.
Why don’t court-appointed attorneys talk to family members about the case?
Collin County has a summary of why court-appointed attorneys do not answer questions about the specifics of a criminal case with family members. You can read that article here.