At a Glance (as of 2013)
Percentage of state funding: 13%
Percentage of local funding: 87%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
State commission: yes – limited authority
Branch of government: judicial
Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services
Texas’ 254 counties are responsible for funding and administering the right to counsel, with limited support from the state. The vast majority of counties rely on assigned counsel systems administered by the judiciary, in which private attorneys are paid either on an hourly rate or at a set rate per case.
The state’s limited oversight and fiscal support is directed through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC). TIDC is a standing committee of the Texas Judicial Council – a statewide criminal justice coordinating body. TIDC itself is a 13-member commission. Eight members are ex officio members of the Judicial Council as follows: the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas (the state court of last resort on civil matters); the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state court of last resort on criminal matters); the chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee; two members of the Senate appointed by the lieutenant governor; one member of the House of Representatives appointed by the House speaker; one Court of Appeals justice appointed by the governor; and one county court judge also appointed by the governor. The governor appoints five additional members with the advice and consent of the Senate: one presiding district court judge; two county court judges or county commissioners (one of which must represent a county with a population greater than 250,000); one practicing criminal defense attorney; and one chief public defender.
TIDC is authorized to set standards and policies related to, among others: attorney performance; attorney qualifications; training; caseload controls; indigence determinations; contracting; and attorney compensation. Counties are required to submit an annual indigent defense plan to TIDC indicating how the county meets TIDC standards, and in return TIDC disseminates state funding to offset the cost of meeting standards. TIDC serves as a compliance monitor for state standards, acts as a clearinghouse for Texas indigent defense data, and provides technical assistance to counties looking to improve right to counsel services. Importantly, TIDC also awards single- and multi-year grants to fund innovative direct client services.
More so than any other state, Texas has increasingly experimented with providing indigent defense services on a regional (multi-county) basis, and often such regional defender systems are exclusive to certain types of cases. For example, the Lubbock Regional Capital Defender Office represents clients in death penalty cases in 94 counties scattered across the state. Perhaps based in part on the Lubbock regional office model, Bee County likewise has combined resources with neighboring Live Oak County and McMullen County to create a regional defender office to handle adult felonies and misdemeanors, while juvenile delinquency and mental health matters are still handled by the private attorney model so prevalent in the rest of the state.
Yet, even in those counties with some form of public defender office, the choice remains with each trial judge as to whether or not to assign cases to the local office. It is therefore quite possible for several (or even all) judges in the county to ignore the existence of such systems and to assign cases instead to private counsel under contract directly with the court.
In 2010, the state of Texas created the Office of Capital Writs, a capital post-conviction state agency charged with representing death sentenced persons in state post-conviction habeas corpus and related proceedings.
The state’s corrections agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, maintains the Office of State Counsel for Offenders (OSCO), an independent division within TDCJ, to provide legal assistance to incarcerated persons in matters of appeal, discretionary writs, civil commitment proceedings, and immigration status. Attorneys within OSCO’s trial section represent already-incarcerated persons at trial, who stand accused of new crimes committed while incarcerated within the TDCJ.
Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff, augmented by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission FY 2013 Annual and Expenditure Report, January 2014, and other public materials on the TIDC website.