Several bills have been filed that would alter key provisions of the Fair Defense Act (FDA).
House Bill 268 by Terry Keel
Transfers the responsibility for adopting attorney standards for attorneys to be appointed to represent indigent defendants in habeas corpus proceedings in death penalty cases from the Court of Criminal Appeals to the Task Force on Indigent Defense. The legislation requires the Task Force to maintain a list of qualified attorneys. The bill also sets out revised minimum qualifications for attorneys to be appointed to represent indigent defendants in death penalty cases at trial and on direct appeal.
House Bill 393 by Todd Smith
Creates a new alternate timeline for appointment of counsel in counties with populations over 250,000 related to time from arrest, rather than just time from receipt of the defendant’s request for counsel. The bill would require such counties to appoint counsel to indigent defendants not later than the latter of 72 hours after the person’s arrest or the end of the first working day after the date on which the court or the courts’ designee receives the defendant’s request for appointment of counsel.
House Bill 1276 by Bryan Hughes
Creates a longer time frame for appointment of counsel in counties under 100,000 population by allowing them up to seven working days from the date of receipt of request for counsel when the defendant is charged with a Class B or C misdemeanor. If a defendant is not in custody, the bill would change the time appointment of counsel is required from the latter of when adversarial judicial proceedings are initiated or first court appearance to the defendant’s first court appearance after adversarial judicial proceedings are initiated.
House Bill 1701 by Terry Keel
Implements clarifying amendments to the FDA recommended by the Task Force on Indigent Defense.
House Bill 1954 by Thomas Merritt
Alters the criteria for determining whether a defendant is indigent and qualifies for indigent defense services by requiring a court to find a defendant not indigent if the person has posted or is capable of posting bail. Current law states that ability to make bail may not be considered “except to the extent that it reflects the defendant’s financial circumstances as measured by the considerations listed in this subsection.”
Senate Bill 1218 by Rodney Ellis
The bill allocates new state funding to support indigent defense services and makes significant changes to the indigent defense requirements. The bill would increase state funding by approximately $8 million per year for indigent defense. It would also make the following changes:
require all counties to appoint counsel within one working day of receiving the request for counsel;
authorize release of defendants on cash bonds or reduced bail bonds;
require attorneys to meet specialized qualification requirements to represent defendants with severe mental illness or retardation;
establish criteria for presuming that a defendant is indigent;
authorize a county or group of counties to establish a pre-trial services office to assist the court in bail determinations and indigence findings for appointment of counsel, and to fund the program by imposing an additional court cost of up to $20 on persons convicted of crimes;
require a county to certify to the Task Force prior to receiving a grant that the county has substantially implemented its indigent defense plan;
direct the Task Force to monitor implementation of county procedures for compliance with their written procedures and assist county officials in studying the creation of a public defender office;
direct the Task Force to maintain a list of pending cases in which the death penalty is sought;
in a non-death penalty case, allow the court in which the case is pending to order the state to provide certain discovery to the defense counsel; and
in a death penalty case, require the court in which the case is pending to order the state to provide certain discovery to the defense counsel.
For more information, visit the Task Force on Indigent Defense Web site at http://www.courts.state.tx.us/oca/tfid/Legislative.htm
By Jim Bethke, TFID director