Perhaps most startling, check out the numbers on cost increases for indigent defense spending over the last decade in Harris County:
That's a whopping 142% total increase in indigent defense costs over the last decade, though it's interesting that the total declined slightly in 2011. Bethke suggests that decline "may be the result of greater emphasis placed on the functionality of the criminal justice system," including "alternative dispositions" and "taking greater care in case filings." But the more likely cause is a recent reduction in the total number of new cases filed:
Curtailing costs was a big reason why Harris County created its public defender office, though it's probably too early to judge its impact on that front. Importantly, though, the memo emphasized that cost isn't the only factor to consider regarding the value of indigent defense but also quality, portraying the new PDO as an alternative to "a meet-and-plead style of practice":
Realizing that attorneys’ high workloads can impede delivery of quality representation, the PDO has implemented workload standards that are consistent with national recommendations in an effort to safeguard defendants’ constitutional rights. Under these workload standards, attorneys are expected to meet promptly with clients and keep them informed of the case, conduct an investigation into the facts of a case, file appropriate motions, and ensure that defendants are informed and aware of the collateral effects of any plea. These performance guidelines were adopted by the State Bar of Texas and are now published as the Performance Guidelines for NonCapital Criminal Defense Representation (State Bar of Texas 2011), which was adopted by the PDO as part of its own employee evaluation.Go here for a discussion of the performance guidelines mentioned by Bethke. Anyone with a particular interest in the Harris PDO will want to read the full memo (pdf).
If attorneys carry a heavy caseload – perhaps one that allows only two hours per client – they may not be able to meet the guidelines established by the State Bar which prevent a meet-and-plead style of practice. Instead, tangible time and effort must be put into each case. Attorneys must meet with the client to conduct an interview regarding the facts of the case. They must also prepare a defense strategy, file appropriate motions, and conduct necessary discovery. Further, attorneys must inquire about the mental health needs of the defendant and determine if any mitigating factors are present. They may also need to have investigators go to the scene of the alleged crime and contact witnesses. Finally, if the defendant chooses to plead to the case, it must be done knowingly, with the defendant informed about the collateral consequences of the plea.