Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why owning a 3-year old Kia may mean indigent defendants can't get a lawyer in Collin County

I've wondered before what the hell is the matter with Collin County justice and this latest report does little to boost my confidence. Now it turns out if you own a car or any other non-liquid asset worth more than $2,500 in Collin County, judges don't consider you indigent for purposes of having an attorney appointed in a criminal case! According to the McKinney Courier Gazette ("Determining the right to an attorney," Sept. 30):
A new report compiled and published earlier this month by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law mentions Collin County as an example of a court system that “explicitly require screeners to view the non-liquid assets of potential clients as available to pay for counsel” citing a financial consideration in the county’s fair defense plan for felony cases that defendants with assets of $2,500 or higher are not considered indigent
Bill Baumbach at the Collin County Observer adds:

From what I've seen, too many defendants are in court without an attorney, and too many are forced to plea bargain either without an lawyer or because they can't afford one.

The criteria for claiming indigency are entirely too severe. Owning a 3 year old Kia can keep you from getting a court appointed lawyer. Prisoners are handed long intimidating forms, and I've heard stories that they've been told that if one thing is untrue, they will be prosecuted for perjury.

See Collin County has cut spending on legal defense for the poor - by Ed Housewright of the DMN, Jan. 27, 2008

Also see Collin cuts court costs, but at what price? by Ed Housewright of the DMN, Aug.4, 2007

For good measure, here's a link to the report from the Brennan Center, titled "Eligible for Justice," for anyone interested.

There was another reference in the report to a Texas example, Midland County, which requires screeners to include spousal income and assets when calculating a defendants' indigency. I have no idea if that's typical elsewhere in Texas, but the Brennan Center found it remarkable.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is truly a travesty. The Founding Fathers did not envision a legal system that deprived those without financial means to afford an attorney to be denied access to a proper defense.Why doesn't the State Bar get involved? The asleep at the wheel Attorney General? How can justice be preserved in a democratic society by depriving the accussed of appropriate legal repersentation. The average citizen could not defend themselves and the "court of law" becomes little more than an "inquisition". I question the intent of Collin County's indigent requirements and someone should file a legal challenge,if they have the money. It almosst sounds like the attorneys in Collin County decided to increse their incomes at the expense of justice.

shg said...

Excellent post. Providing counsel for indigents is a great expense, and Collins County has demonstrated the desire to seize upon any excuse to avoid it. And Collins County is hardly alone.

diogenes said...

I believe Collin county and others are trying to draw a line between true indigency and inconvenience. I also don't see a problem with checking the spouse's assests for the indigency assessment. Texas is a community property state the last I remember being taught. If the spouse doesn't want to help pay for the lawyer, then they need to go ahead and get a divorce because they aren't living up to their marital responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Of course spousal income is considered.

TCADP said...

Collin County has a history of using the system for their favor... My husband had a child support arrangement through Collin county many years ago. My husband would send his decreed allocation to the county who would then send to his ex-wife - after the county removed all of their administration fees. There were a lot of funny things going on with that county that showed they did not have the child's best interest at heart. I called the Attorney General's office who claimed they couldn't do anything about it and seriously recommended I call "48 hours" for an investigation.

Soronel Haetir said...

Sorry to burst your bubble Anon, but the founders had no vision for court appointed councel. They merely wished to ensure that councel would not be denyed to someone who could retain assistance on their own.

However the various rules of evidence and such were also straightforward enough that a non-lawyer had a reasonable chance of running the gauntlet.

Under the modern system though, as I said at SL&P I believe the government should be on the hook regardless of indegency if the defendant wishes to take that risk.

Anonymous said...

Spouse assets??? What about the assets of the children. Are the accused's children expected to sacrafice their well being in order for the County to avoid paying an attorney?

Where is the CPS when you need them?

celtictexan said...

Old news. A job at mcdonalds will bump you off, the lawyer get rich quick band wagon.

Anonymous said...

Well someone has to pay for the new Court house that looks like the Tadj Mahal!

Anonymous said...

I covered a story regarding a minority boy prosecuted for an attempted rape of a grown white woman two years ago. The case was overturned. It was a complete travesty of justice and now I am covering the mother of the same juvenile...who Collin County has "fraud" charges on. In reviewing all the evidence and the documents that the Collin County DA gave in attempting to prosecute this lady it is painfully obvious that a personal vendetta, as with the son, plays a high card in this game that they try play. And the only thing I can see is that "the past" is this ladies only scar. I have seen orchestrations of lies and manipulations before but this case, which coincidentally, is next door to her son's...can anyone see something there? Anyway, the point of all of that was to say....Collin County and the DA and the ADA's are completely corrupt. Now, you want to talk about court appointed lawyers? Well, someone should investigate the "workings" of that friendly relationship. Collin County does not follow the law, nor operate under an umbrella of truth nor justice. The configuration they go by is they get a conviction and hope people don't file an appeal and when they do...the person has already spent a significant portion of time behind bars. So, the figuring of the DA there is "they did some time anyway." That county is completely suspect to me. And yes, I am a white, catholic, college educated woman who is highly disgusted by the actions that I have followed in this county. Bill, you are doing an excellent job...but there is so much dirt - you will need a back hoe to get to the first layer. Investigate their plea bargains....and you will find an innocent person in the middle of corruption. Investigate their judges, the DA's and then the court appointed attorneys and you will find such bed fellows like the former CCA judge and the former DA. That is all that Collin County is. And then investigate how they operate towards minorities and you will absolutely find modern day lychings simply set in that brand new court house on the hill....for all to see. You asked why doesn't the State Bar get involved? Well, that would mean someone, somewhere would have to oust their collegues and they are scared to. Equally, as the CCA was until so much light came to shine...it would be impossible to not address it. So within that fear...you get corruption and innocent people and minorities going back to trees with Collin County carrying the ropes, poor people being the escape goat and the Bar and Rangers cheering on "that a boys" and running and hiding because they think Collin County has the money. However, someone needs to check the credit card statements and look at the debt to income ratio of Collin County. And then maybe someone will stop being scared.

Anonymous said...

Someone from the ACLU should look into these improprieties at Collin County and others. No, wait! My bad. That's within the borders of the United States. ACLU only aids those that are foreigners.

Anonymous said...

The ACLU protects the Civil Liberties of school children, churches, gays, lesbians, women, minorities, prisoners, and even the people who make unfounded comments against them regardless or their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. Keep up the free speech, the ACLU protects even those of you that spread the words of hate.

As for Collin County, that is pretty sad, it is only a matter of time until someone steps in and ends this, but unfortunately it will not come fast enough for those currently affected.