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Thread: Public Defenders vs. Appointed Counsel

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    Public Defenders vs. Appointed Counsel

    Many, including attorneys, have long argued that the system used in most Texas counties of appointing attorneys provides a more effective defense than public defender offenses.

    A new study from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that public defenders do just about as well as hired defense attorneys, with appointed attorneys lagging behind.

    In the nation’s 75 most populous counties, the overall conviction rates were about the same for felony defendants represented by public defenders (73%) or hired attorneys (72%). Defendants with assigned counsel, in comparison, faced a higher likelihood (78%) of conviction.
    Nearly half (46%) of convicted defendants with an assigned counsel received a prison sentence, while approximately a third of convicted defendants with retained counsel (29%) or public defender (32%) representation were sentenced to prison.
    http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.co...unsel-get.html

  2. #2
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    Can you explain the difference?

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    The paper notes that, "Of all forms of indigent defense, the most popular and widely used are public defender programs." But Texas counties, of course, rely heavily on appointed counsel with only a few, smallish public defender systems around the state. (Dallas' is the biggest, and they supplement their PDs office with appointed counsel.) That's significant because, "In general, defendants represented by assigned counsel received the least favorable outcomes in that they were convicted and sentenced to state prison at higher rates compared to defendants with public defenders. These defendants also received longer sentences than those who had public defender representation."
    I think you'd have to compare outcomes within the Dallas County system to get a real accurate metric. Very few jurisdictions have the type of hybrid system that Dallas runs--it's usually all one or the other. So it's impossible to compare outcomes across counties because of the differences is jury pools and statutory penalties.

    To take an extreme example, the fact that a marijuana possession defendant gets a harsher sentence in Harris County, Texas, than in San Francisco County, California, involves a number of factors, the employment of his lawyer probably being the one of the least significant.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Hellraiser97 View Post
    Can you explain the difference?
    Appointed counsel - there is just a list of attorneys at the courthouse and when a case comes up with an indigent defendant, the judge assigns it to an attorney on the list and that attorney gets paid a stipend from the state. If the attorney wants to hire an expert or an investigator, they can ask the court for money to do so and may or may not be given that.

    Public defender - there is a state-funded office that handles indigent defense and has a staff of public defenders and investigators (basically a mirror of the DA's office but with fewer resources).

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    Gotcha. Thanks.

  6. #6
    Personally I have never heard that the appointed attorney system results in better quality of defense. I've always heard the opposite. It leads to judges appointing their buddies regardless of skill or experience (even when there are systems in place to prevent that).

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by dalhorn06 View Post
    Personally I have never heard that the appointed attorney system results in better quality of defense. I've always heard the opposite. It leads to judges appointing their buddies regardless of skill or experience (even when there are systems in place to prevent that).
    You heard wrong, because in Texas, the court/staff is required by statute to go to the next attorney on the court appointed attorney list, and not skip around, etc. To be fair to you, what you describe used to happen, especially in Bexar County.

    They're pretty strict on that with Fair Defense Act implications, etc.

  8. #8
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    do attorneys in Texas simply volunteer to be on the Appointed Counsel list? (assuming there's some set minimum level of qualifications they meet.)

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Traffic View Post
    do attorneys in Texas simply volunteer to be on the Appointed Counsel list? (assuming there's some set minimum level of qualifications they meet.)
    It varies by county but they request to be on the list and the requirements vary by county. In Travis County, you get $500/day for a misdemeanor trial and $1000/day for a felony trial. You can also get fees for hearings, discovery, etc. So it's not great pay but it's enough to bring in some cash, especially if work is slow and that's time you wouldn't be spending on other cases.

    Of course, most cases don't go to trial so generally the attorney will just get $50 for the bail hearing and $150 for the plea hearing, and maybe some more if there are other hearings or discovery.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by scottsins View Post
    You heard wrong, because in Texas, the court/staff is required by statute to go to the next attorney on the court appointed attorney list, and not skip around, etc. To be fair to you, what you describe used to happen, especially in Bexar County.

    They're pretty strict on that with Fair Defense Act implications, etc.
    Not trying to be an ass, but I know several people (criminal judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors) who work in the system (in Texas), and they all say that there are ways to get around this - and slimy judges do.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by dalhorn06 View Post
    Not trying to be an ass, but I know several people (criminal judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors) who work in the system (in Texas), and they all say that there are ways to get around this - and slimy judges do.
    I wouldn't say it's necessarily slimy when an attorney picks up a bench appointment.

    The Bexar way admittedly reeked of cronyism. Judges threw cases at their favorites, and attorneys were making healthy six-digit incomes solely off appointed cases -- at $150 a pop, you can do the math.

    Sometimes judges make a bench appointment because someone is on their third court appearance and they don't have an attorney yet and they're poor and they need to get moving on their case and the attorney happens to be sitting there. I would as soon get a bench appointment as a wheel appointment, because I can immediately get a face-to-face meeting with the client instead of having to track him down through letters to a bad address and calls to a Cricket phone that's disconnected half the time.

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