Court-Appointed Counsel vs. Public Defenders

If you’ve seen a police drama in the last thirty years, then you’re probably familiar with your “Miranda” rights. Those rights were outlined in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case from which they got their name. In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination requires law enforcement officers to advise suspects of their right to remain silent and to secure an attorney before they can be legally interrogated while in custody. Even though it is known for guaranteeing both the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney, it should be more remembered for the latter. If you couple this with the right to a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford one, which generally only applies to criminal defendants, you have two of the most important details to remember if you ever get arrested.

Of course, it also helps to remember that some states have very different methods of carrying out these constitutional guarantees. While many states fund public defender services to provide legal representation to indigent clients, some states choose to use a court-appointed counsel system instead. It may come as no surprise that in a state as big as Texas you would find both systems in place. However, some Texas politicians have called on the State to move away from the court-appointed system and to begin funding a statewide public defenders corp. State Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston has been the most prominent supporter of making this switch. In a recent opinion piece for the San Antonio Express-News, Senator Ellis called the court-appointed system “antiquated” and argued that it inevitably creates a conflict of justice when judges are given control over which attorney will represent a defendant. In addition, a judge may even have control over whether the attorney they appoint is given adequate resources to investigate a case. While there is no definitive proof that public defenders eliminate this conflict, there is some evidence from the relatively new office in Harris County that its attorneys are more consistently able to investigate cases (since their resources are not determined by a judge) than court-appointed attorneys, leading to better outcomes for their clients.

What attorney should I hire for my criminal case?

None of this is to detract from the merits of the current system of court-appointed attorneys, however. Many attorneys do devote themselves to representing their clients diligently. But again, whether an indigent client draws one of these attorneys is almost entirely decided by the presiding judge. What is certain, as Sen. Ellis points out, is that Texas ranks 48th out of 50 states in spending on indigent defense. Any effort to change this will be an uphill battle since many view public defender offices as just another push to expand government bureaucracy.

Of course, the best way to get the legal help you need is by retaining the services of a trusted defense lawyer in San Antonio. At The Law Office of Guillermo Lara, we offer all potential clients a free, no cost case evaluation aimed at informing them about their case before they commit to defense and offer payment plans for those that are unable to afford our services up front. With little to lose, it is worthwhile to contact our office and learn how we can help you.

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