Public Defender

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) was appropriated an estimated $79 million for the 2014–15 biennium. Estimated appropriation authority enables TIDC to spend all available amounts in the Fair Defense Account during the 2014–15 biennium.

State revenue sources to support indigent defense are deposited into the General Revenue-Dedicated Fair Defense Account. Revenue sources include a combination of court costs, surety bond fees, and state bar membership fees.


  • Roughly 32 states provide more than 50% of the cost for providing public defenders, the state of Texas only provides 12% of funding
  • The Texas Fair Defense Act was signed in 2001, it wasn’t until 2010 that a Harris County Public Defender’s office was created


  • Although the Texas constitution (26.04 J) requires that attorney’s make every “reasonable” effort to contact the defendant not later than the end of the first working day after the date on which the attorney is appointed, we also recommend:
    • All clients must be appointed a public defender within 48 hours of the arrest
    • Attorney must interview clients within 5 business days of being appointed
  • The Texas legislature should adopt compensation standards
  • Give clients the ability to choose their public defenders
  • Maintain that the State Bar fee be used to fund indigent defense services and increase the fee from $65 to $200 and tie it to inflation
  • Require city jails to give inmates coats if they’re released during winter


How to Finance Public Defense?

  • Tie sales tax for alcohol, cigarettes and related items to inflation to properly fund indigent defense
  • Local government is permitted per the state constitution to decriminalize marijuana. This will enable counties to save taxpayers money on non-violent offenders
  • Close corporate loopholes in the state sales tax
  • Reallocate some of the $800 million wasted on border security
  • Create a state public bank to finance no fee, low interest loans to counties to expand public defender programs

Texas Constitution
Code – Government
Chapter – 79 Texas Indigent Defense Commission
Chapter – 81 State Bar
Section – 81.054 Membership Fees and Additional Fees

Code – Code of Criminal Procedure
Chapter – 26 Arraignment
Section – 26.04 Procedures for Appointing Counsel

CATO Institute – Reforming Indigent Defense: How Free Market Principles Can Help to Fix a Broken System

County Leaders Push State Leaders to Increase Indigent Funding

Think Progress – Missouri’s Top Public Defender Sends Fiery Letter To Governor, Assigns Him A Case

Mother Jones – These Public Defenders Actually Want to Get Sued

Mother Jones – Charts: Why You’re in Deep Trouble If You Can’t Afford a Lawyer

The Atlantic – Louisiana refuses to budget for public defenders

The Atlantic – How Much Does a Public Defender Need to Know About a Client?

The Atlantic – A Governor Ordered to Serve as a Public Defender

Texas Observer – Houston Attorney Crusading Against ‘Unconstitutional’ Court Fees

Texas Observer – Study Shows Why Houston’s Public Defender Program is Worth the Cost

Texas Observer – In Harris County, the defense system works great for everyone but the indigent

Governing – States Rethinking Indigent Defense Systems

Texas Tribune – Advocates: Texas Indigent Defense Nearing Crisis

San Antono Current – Bexar County Asks State to Pay for Indigent Defense

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

Texas Appleseed – Fair Defense Act

Houston Public Media – Commemorating The 15th Anniversary Of The Texas Fair Defense Act

Brennan Center – Gideon at 50: Three Reforms to Revive the Right to Counsel

Marshall Project – When Real Estate and Tax Lawyers Are Forced to Do a Public Defender’s Job

NPR – Why Your Right To A Public Defender May Come With A Fee

PBS – Wait list grows as public defenders refuse cases in New Orleans

Salt Lake Tribune – Utah lawmakers move to fix public defender system

The Guardian – The human toll of America’s public defender crisis

The Guardian – Try-out for US-style public defenders

The Guardian – Louisiana, race and the consequences of a broken public defender system

Vera Institute – Behind the Scenes of Public Defense

Houston Chronicle – Harris County’s system for defending the poor is still woefully inadequate, state audit finds

Houston Chronicle – Waller County not ready to launch public defender’s office

Houston Chronicle – Harris County to place public defenders at bail hearings

USA Today – Indiana’s public defender system flawed, study says

Washington Post – In Texas, a novel idea to address the public defender crisis

Houston Free Press – Court-Appointed Attorneys in Harris County Take On Massive Caseloads

Los Angeles Times – L.A. County ends public defender ‘registration fee’

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