Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cool statistics source: How many Texas defendants get appointed counsel?

I asked in the last post if anyone knew the statewide percentage of misdemeanor defendants who received appointed lawyers. Thanks to Dominic Gonzales who pointed me to the relevant data. The answer is 27.3% of misdemeanor defendants in Texas had lawyers appointed to represent them according to the latest available statistics (Oct. 2004 to Sept. 2005). By contrast, 62.8% of felony defendants had appointed counsel over the same period.

Those stats come from a great web-based source provided by the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, whose website is well worth digging around on.
Here's the page from which to access their data. Clicking on "Court and Case Info" takes you to this page. Select the boxes labeled "Show Poverty Rate," "Show Criminal Cases Added" and "Show Criminal Cases Appointed," and you'll get a very useful county-level chart from which you can calculate indigent appointment rates. Misdemeanor cases are the ones in the county courts while felonies go to district courts. Dividing the cases appointed by the cases added for misdemeanor, felony or juvenile courts in a given jurisdiction gives you the rate of indigent appointments.

This would be a good way for Texas reporters or bloggers to localize this story. While Williamson County appoints lawyers in just 9.4% of cases compared to the statewide average of 27.3%, defendants caught south of the county line in Travis County in Austin receive appointed attorneys in 50.7% of misdemeanor cases. That's a huge disparity.

On the other hand, a conservative-liberal divide separates Williamson and Travis, anyway. More significantly, the rates of indigent appointments vary widely even in very conservative areas of the state. In Smith County (Tyler is the county seat), just 6.3% of misdemeanor defendants have counsel appointed to represent them, while in equally conservative Fort Bend County, which is Tom DeLay's political homebase, 33.0% of indigent misdemeanants have lawyers appointed. Ideology can't explain all that difference. I wonder what does?

Check to see how your county stacks up. Look at the data yourself - what trends jump out? I'm going be interested to comb through this portion of the Task Force's website in more detail.

Dominic also mentioned that this Bureau of Justice Statistics report (pdf) from 2000 remains one of the best available analyses of national indigent defense practices, so I thought I'd pass the link along.

UPDATE (6/14): That 27.3% number appears to be a little low. Dallas, for example, shows zero attorney appointments for misdemeanor defendants on this chart - either those defendants were represented by their Public Defender office, or Dallas County simply didn't report their stats. Either way, more Texas misdemeanants certainly received state-paid attorneys than the figures on the Task Force site represent. If anybody knows the source of the discrepany (there are several counties with zeroes in their "County Criminal Cases Appointed" column), please let me know in the comments. For now, 27% should be considered an "at least" number.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bexar County pays appointed misdemeanor attorneys the same $100.00 per case that was paid twenty years ago in 1986, and lawyers line up in the morning begging for the work.