Access to Counsel
People need a lawyer’s help when they are accused of a crime, and this is true whether they are rich or poor. TFDP works to ensure that all people accused of criminal offenses have access to a lawyer to help them navigate the legal system, and that no one is pressured to plead guilty before having the opportunity to obtain legal advice.
Our criminal justice system is an adversarial system. It’s designed to produce accurate and fair results by a process through which two opponents present the evidence and law that supports their different sides of a case. When only one side is represented by counsel, the criminal justice system is not equipped to distinguish the innocent from the guilty, or to assign punishment that is appropriate to both the offender and the offense.
Criminal defendants who are denied the right to counsel won’t know about, or know how to assert, their other constitutional and statutory rights. They also often can’t access specialty courts and other programs designed to divert people from the criminal justice system.
Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the right to counsel is the most fundamental right possessed by people accused of crime, tens of thousands of criminal defendants in Texas are denied access to counsel each year, particularly in misdemeanor cases. These defendants are not informed of their right to appointed counsel, or are pressured by courts and prosecutors to plead guilty without obtaining legal advice about possible defenses and the direct and collateral consequences of conviction.
TFDP works to improve access to counsel by:
- educating affected communities about the right to counsel and how to assert it
- providing direct assistance to individuals who have been denied access to counsel
- working collaboratively with state and local officials to eliminate practices that impede access to counsel
- engaging in strategic litigation to challenge systemic violations of the right to counsel
Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the right to counsel is the most fundamental right possessed by people accused of crime, tens of thousands of criminal defendants in Texas are denied access to counsel each year, particularly in misdemeanor cases.