Indigent defense costs increased during year

I n February shortly after taking office, I reported to you that we had spent $155,000 in fiscal 2010 ($180,000 in calendar 2010) on indigent defense.

Indigent defense is money paid to attorneys to defend those accused of crimes that could not afford the assistance of counsel, a right guaranteed by the sixth amendment of our Constitution.

I was determined to try to control this cost as best I could this year. Well, the results are in for fiscal 2011 (Oct. 1, 2010 thru Sept. 30, 2011) (rounded to nearest $1,000):

Juvenile court—36 cases costing $10,000 in 2010; 39 cases costing $16,000 in 2011.

County court—77 cases costing $22,000 in 2010; 109 cases costing $34,000 in 2011.

District court—237 cases costing $123,000 in 2010; 267 cases costing $147,000 in 2011.

Capital murder—No cases in 2010; $5,000 budgeted in 2011.

Total— 317 cases costing $155,000 in 2010; 416 case costing $202,00 in 2011.

Not good. A hundred more indigent cases and almost $50,000 more in costs. And I can’t blame district court either. We’re up in County Court as well.

And it’s going to get worse, as you can see the costs of the capital murder trial are just starting to come in.

The law requires that those facing the death penalty be provided with public defense regardless of indigence.

This case could result in several hundred thousand in cost to Milam County taxpayers.

So what can we do to try again to make improvements this coming year? First of all, as of Oct. 1 we have joined the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases consortium of counties which has become available to us for the first time.

This program acts like an insurance policy to protect us from the high cost of providing public defenders in capital murder trials in the future.

Unfortunately it came too late to help us in the case that we already have to deal with next year.

Another thing that I am attempting to do is to communicate better with defendants to make sure they understand that they can discuss their case with the county attorney or her representative prior to an attorney being assigned and possibly work out a plea bargain settlement.

There is no obligation. My goal always is to try to communicate, not to try to force someone to do something against their will.

They can always come back to the court, plead innocent, claim indigence, and request a courtappointed attorney.

I have also begun the practice of requiring some form of documentation of the indigence claim.

Finally by memo and also at arraignment, I point out that if the individual is found guilty, they will be required to pay for the cost of the court appointed attorney, either by “laying out the cost” at $50 per day of jail time or by paying it out over time during probation.

Only if found innocent will they not be required to pay in some way. Hopefully emphasizing this will be a deterrent.

I feel our attorney fee schedule is reasonable and that the defense attorneys working with the courts here are doing a good job.

I’d like to thank them for their support.

You may view the Milam County Indigent Defense Plans along with all other Texas county plans at

This web site is cross linked from our county web site at

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2011-11-17 digital edition

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