Criminal defendants deserve lawyers who can provide zealous and effective advocacy. TFDP works to ensure that low-income people who have a constitutional right to court-appointed counsel are represented by lawyers who have the skills and resources necessary to really test the government’s case and counsel their clients about potential courses of action.
Lawyers who advise their clients to plead guilty five minutes after being appointed in a case aren’t fulfilling their professional obligations. And even the most skilled and committed criminal defense lawyers can’t mount a meaningful defense if they have too many cases, aren’t given the investigative and expert resources necessary to prepare a defense, or are subject to professional penalties if they show more loyalty to their clients than to the courts that make appointment decisions.
Most indigent defendants in Texas are represented by lawyers who are dependent on judges for their livelihoods, who are consistently denied access to investigators and experts, and who operate in solo practices in which they have limited access to supervision, mentoring, and formal training. These lawyers usually are paid very low per-case flat rates. Some of them try to compensate for the low pay by moving a large number of cases very quickly. It is not uncommon to see a lawyer introduce himself to a client just minutes before the client enters a plea.
TFDP works to improve the quality of representation provided to low-income people accused of crime by:
- working with state and local officials to develop new indigent defense programs, such as independent public defender offices, that provide better training, supervision, access to resources, and independence from the judiciary than do traditional wheel appointment systems
- fighting for greater transparency and accountability concerning defense attorneys’ workloads
- working with bar leaders to develop and implement performance guidelines for criminal defense lawyers
- advocating for increased funding for indigent defense