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Since the passage of the Fair Defense Act (FDA) of 2001,Texas has made significant progress in improving the delivery of indigent defense services and providing access to counsel to defendants in need, but there is still more work to be done.
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, in a new feature report, credits the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (Commission) and Texas counties for implementing the much needed changes of the FDA. System improvements include setting requirements for the timing of the appointment of counsel, clarifying the qualifications for appointed counsel, and requiring plans for determining a defendant’s indigency. To assist counties in meeting the FDA requirements, the Commission provides valuable technical support and guidance on standards and reporting. Furthermore, the Commission distributes just over $30 million annually to Texas’s 254 counties – funding collected through court fines and other fees, not from the state’s general revenue – to support counties in their efforts to provided defense services.
Unfortunately for counties, the cost of indigent services has more than doubled since the passage of the FDA in 2001, due largely to more defendants passing through the system. Although Commission funding has increased from its initial level, it still only covers about 30 percent of the increased costs incurred by counties. This report highlights why the Commission’s work in supporting counties’ forward-thinking strategies and best practices for providing indigent defense will result in a better, cost-saving justice system, worthy of state general revenue to help counties provide constitutionally required indigent defense to Texans.