StandDown Texas Project

The StandDown Texas Project identifies and advocates best practices in the criminal justice system. To stand down is to go off duty temporarily, especially to review safety procedures. That is what Texas needs to do with its death penalty.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Forty Years after Gideon

Forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling declared that indigent defendants in criminal cases must have access to legal counsel. The case was vividly reported in Anthony Lewis' classic, Gideon's Trumpet, still in print today. Since then Texas counties have relied on a non-system in which virtually every individual criminal court judge had his or her own rules and procedures. In 2001, the Texas Legislature voted the Texas Fair Defense Act into law, and created a Task Force on Indigent Defense to implement the new law. The TxFDA called for standards in attorney appointment, qualifications and compensation.

The new law has been widely praised for improving a system that had been near the bottom of all 50 states by any standard of measure. Until the TxFDA, all indigent defense costs had been paid by the individual counties. With passage of the new law the state of Texas started laying out money, offering grants to the counties to help pay for additional costs of complying with the law.

The Dallas Morning News on Friday reported on an examination of Dallas County's efforts, relating that while progress has been made, the Dallas County Public Defender's Office remains understaffed and lacks adequate training systems. For more on this go to: http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/news/localnews/stories/082104dnmetindigent.9e051.html

It's estimated that in most county's between 80 - 90% of all criminal cases require court appointed attorneys.

You can find more information on indigent defense in Texas at two sites.

The Task Force on Indigent Defense: http://www.courts.state.tx.us/tfid/TFIDentrance.htm

The Equal Justice Center: http://www.equaljusticecenter.org/serv01.htm

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