Thursday, December 28, 2006

High bonds drive up county indigent defense costs

More reaction to Longview state Rep. Tommy Merritt's seemingly ill-conceived proposal to reduce indigent defense spending for Gregg County, this time from Dominic Gonzales of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, who writes:
I think your point about [Gregg] county unwittingly amassing more expenses by needlessly jailing defendants who qualify for bond is right on.

Policy makers in Gregg County may want to examine whether overly-restrictive bond practices make it impossible for defendants to hire their own lawyers. If they're forcing most defendants to use a surety instead of taking advantage of personal recognizance options, they're probably forcing their [attorney] appointment rates way up. A January 2005 PPRI report on the impact of the Fair Defense Act pointed out that: "if defendants on the financial brink of indigence apply all their assets to obtain release on a high bond, they may then be less likely to have resources remaining to pay a private attorney."

They may also want to look at the types of cases that may be clogging their system. I'd be willing to bet that the county is struggling with a large number of Driving While License Suspended cases. Lots of counties have complained about how these particular cases have contributed to a huge backlog. Midland County has even created a separate non-criminal docket to deal with people who have had their licenses suspended and were arrested for DWLS.

Beyond that, it sounds as if one of Representative Merritt's biggest complaints centers on the disparity between local and state spending on indigent defense services. It seems like he might want to encourage other state policy makers to help offset local spending by investing in better delivery models such as public defender offices. Kaufmann County is well on its way to setting up a PD office with some seed money from the Task Force on Indigent Defense. Maybe if local leaders start working across county lines, they could get started on a regional office for East Texas.
Thanks, Dominic. Those are all excellent ideas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bondsmen are powerful lobbyists. Judges who grant too many PR bonds do not receive as many campaign contributions from bondsmen.