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, indigent defense costs have increased 228% from $91.4 million in 2001 to $299.9 million in 2019.
  • In FY 2019, the state funded only about $28.5 million of the total statewide indigent defense costs, while counties contributed approximately $271.4 million (about 90% 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.

Additional Information

  • Support More State Funding for Indigent Defense (Infographic)

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Related Articles

Commissioners Approves TIDC Grant For Counsel At First Appearance Trial

San Marcos Daily Record, Feb. 19, 2020

The Hays County Commissioner’s Court approved a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to participate in a trial examining the effects of counsel on first appearance. The commissioners unanimously, with commissioner Lon Shell absent, approved the grant from the TIDC in the amount...

$20 Million State Grant Comes Through for Indigent Defense

Austin Chronicle, Sept. 6, 2019

It's fair to say stakeholders on all sides are celebrating last week's Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant award to Travis County. "I'm super excited about the grant," said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt...

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...

County targets indigent defense funding inequity, other priorities for state Legislature

Waco Tribune-Herald, Apr. 7, 2018

The cost for McLennan County to provide public defenders has been on the rise for years. At the same time, state money for the indigent defense program has been on the decline, pinching the county budget. McLennan County commissioners are pushing...

Indigent defense bill grows

Athens Daily Review, Feb. 7, 2017

Henderson County has passed an expensive milestone concerning the cost of indigent defense. County Judge Richard Sanders said the county spent more than $1 million dollars defending those who couldn't afford an attorney in 2016...

State payments for indigent defense continue to dip in Gregg County

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...

Making Gideon Proud

County Magazine, Feb 22, 2013

About 10 years ago, the Wichita County Office of the Public Defender (OPD), like all county indigent defense programs across the state, was facing a crisis...

Texas Indigent Defense Commission Asks State to Close the Indigent Defense Funding Gap

County Magazine, Dec 20, 2012

The start of 2013 will bring the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that assistance of counsel is essential to justice and fair outcomes in our criminal justice system...