Indigent Defense

Indigent defense expenditures are one of the major uncontrollable cost drivers in county budgets. The state should fully fund this unfunded mandate.

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Key Points

  • Texas counties are responsible for the costs of appointed counsel for indigent defendants.
  • Counties are authorized to deliver indigent defense services through a system that best meets local needs.
  • Providing court appointed counsel for indigent defendants is a major uncontrollable expense in county budgets.
  • Since passage of the Fair Defense Act (2001), indigent defense costs have increased 188 percent from $91.4 million in 2001 to $263.3 million in 2017. State grants have covered only a small proportion of those costs.
  • In FY 2017, the state funded only about $38.3 million of the total statewide indigent defense costs, while counties contributed approximately $225 million (about 85 percent of the total costs).
  • Additional state funding in the next legislative session would assist counties and their taxpayers in offsetting the costs of this significant unfunded mandate.

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Related Articles

Denton County wants state to fund court-appointed attorneys

Denton Record-Chronicle, Feb. 2, 2019

Denton County officials want the state of Texas to start picking up the tab for court-appointed attorneys who are assigned to the county's poorest defendants. As one of their policy positions in the current Texas legislative session, Denton County commissioners agreed...

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Waco Tribune-Herald, Apr. 7, 2018

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Athens Daily Review, Feb. 7, 2017

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Longview News Journal, Feb. 6, 2017

Gregg County on Monday accepted a $117,000 grant to pay for court-appointed defense attorneys this year, a state contribution the county auditor welcomed while noting it is far less than what is spent on indigent defendants — and less than the state provided a year ago...

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