Harrison County has been awarded a $98,000 grant to help offset the almost $500,000 deficit from expenses relating to murder trials.District Attorney decisions are already perhaps-too detached from budget considerations, but subsidizing death-penalty defense (as opposed to, say, burglary, DWI, non-capital murder, or defense of incompetent jail inmates) seems like a politicized way to encourage more of the very most expensive and problematic type of criminal litigation. Appeals go on for years, quite a few men have been exonerated from death row, including Anthony Graves, and more than half of Texas death sentences do not result in executions, according to a recent analysis. Counties that pay full freight for capital cases will perhaps calculate that into prosecutors' thinking when they make the next decision about whether to pursue capital charges.
The Texas Task Force of Indigent Services awarded a total of $650,000 to six counties that demonstrated extraordinary indigent defense expenses that constituted a financial emergency.
“The county needed help recouping funds lost in the recent capital murder trial,” said Harrison County First Assistant Auditor Jana Smallwood, who was responsible for the application.
The county budgeted $250,000 for the trial of Cortne Mareese Robinson, and it ended up costing almost twice that for the defense and prosecution costs, Smallwood said.
By contrast, the task force earlier set up a West Texas appellate public defender for capital defense - dubbed "murder insurance" by its proponents - that operates on a bit more of a "Lord helps those who help themselves model," creating a system that in the long-term is self-sustaining instead of subsidizing short-term consequences from county-level policy decisions.
I don't think such grants are where the Task Force on Indigent Defense can get its greatest bang for the buck.