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Why Should I Hire a Lawyer When the Court Appointed One for Me?

The entire process can be stressful and overwhelming if you're facing a criminal charge in Texas. It isn't easy to know what you should do and how to proceed. If you don't have an attorney, and the court appoints one, is that OK? Having a court-appointed attorney can be a big risk to take when jail time and heavy fines are on the line. A criminal conviction on your record can affect your career, your relationships with family and children, your ability to get a loan, and even your ability to rent an apartment or obtain a mortgage.

With such a big hit to your personal and professional reputation on the line, it's important to understand how using a court-appointed attorney works and the advantages of choosing and hiring counsel who will zealously advocate for you in the criminal justice system. Attorney Doug Murphy is highly experienced in criminal defense and DWI defense in Texas, and he can help you. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. at 713-229-8333 or contact us online to schedule your consultation.

What Is a Court-Appointed Attorney?

Under the U.S. Constitution, every person charged with a crime has a right to an attorney. Every state in the U.S. handles criminal defendants who can't afford an attorney in different ways. The Texas legislature passed the Fair Defense Act to appoint attorneys to indigent defendants. You have the right to an attorney for any adversarial court proceeding that may result in confinement.

In 1968, a Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, ruled that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution created a right for a criminal defendant who can't afford an attorney to have one appointed to them by the state. In the Gideon case, the defendant asked a Florida court to appoint an attorney because he couldn't afford to hire one. The court denied the request because, at the time, Florida law only allowed the court to appoint an attorney for an indigent defendant charged with a capital offense. While Gideon v. Wainright established a defendant's right to have an attorney appointed if they can't afford one, it didn't detail how the state should or must pay for it. As a result, many states, including Texas, have woefully underfunded their court-appointed attorneys and public defenders.

How Does Appointment of an Attorney Work?

If you're facing criminal charges in the Houston area and tell the judge that you can't afford an attorney, the judge may appoint an attorney to represent you. However, in most circumstances, you must qualify as "indigent" to receive a court-appointed attorney. However, "[t]he judge of the court may also appoint counsel, in the interests of justice to a person appearing before the court, regardless of the person's financial status." The court may appoint either a public defender or a Managed Assigned Counsel, depending on the charges involved in your case and the availability of court-appointed lawyers. You cannot choose whether the court assigns you a public defender or a private attorney working as a MAC or contractor.

How Does the Court Determine "Indigence"?

The court will ask you for information about your financial status, including documentation, to determine whether you are indigent. The court will consider:

  • Your income and sources of income,
  • Your assets and property,
  • Necessary expenses,
  • The amount of your financial obligations,
  • Spousal income available to you, and
  • The number and ages of your dependents.

The court may presume you're indigent if your income doesn't exceed 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.

What Is "Managed Assigned Counsel"?

If you're facing misdemeanor charges and ask for a court-appointed attorney, you may receive an appointed attorney from the Managed Assigned Counsel office. Managed Assigned Counsel (MAC) are private attorneys appointed by the court to represent people who can't afford an attorney. They act as independent contractors through the MAC office and are paid by the county. The court will appoint an available MAC to your case, but you don't get to choose the attorney.

What Is a Public Defender?

A public defender is a full-time salaried employee paid by the Public Defender's Office in Harris County. While Harris County has a public defender's office funded by the county and federal funds, not every county in Texas does. In fact, there are only 19 public defender offices in Texas, which cover 39 counties in the state. Most counties in Texas must rely on appointments of private attorneys at greatly reduced fees to represent indigent defendants. Public defenders in Harris County handle felony, misdemeanor, juvenile, appellate, mental health, magistration, and post-conviction cases for indigent defendants. This is their only job; they do not take clients as private attorneys. The court must appoint a public defender to your case, but you won't get to choose whether the court assigns you a public defender or a private attorney working as a MAC or contractor.

Is a Court-appointed Attorney Really Free?

While you may not have to pay anything upfront for a court-appointed attorney, you may have to repay attorney fees as a bond condition or a condition of probation. You may have to repay these fees regardless of whether you feel the attorney represented you well.

What Are the Advantages of Hiring My Own Attorney?

There are many advantages to hiring your own attorney instead of a court-appointed attorney in a criminal case. When you hire your own attorney, you can choose a lawyer based on qualifications and experience, you can also be sure that you have an attorney who will vigorously defend you, and you can choose an attorney who has the necessary experience in criminal defense law.

What Is the Advantage of Choosing My Attorney?

One large difference between a court-appointed and a private attorney is choice. When the court appoints an attorney, you don't have a choice in selecting or retaining your attorney. When you hire a private attorney, you choose the best attorney for your needs considering their experience, qualifications, education, training, and fit.

Are Public Defenders Adequately Funded?

Court-appointed attorneys are frequently overworked and handle far too many criminal cases simultaneously. When a mass arrest happens in Harris County, finding enough qualified public defenders or MACs willing to take court-appointed cases can also be challenging. Moreover, funding for court-appointed lawyers is chronically low. According to an investigation by the Texas Tribune in 2019, Texas ranked among the states that spent the least per capita on indigent defense funding. The counties fund court-appointed attorneys, with a small match from the state, but the funding doesn't come close to meeting the demand.

According to the Tribune, in 2017, the average court-appointed lawyer in Texas made only $247 per misdemeanor case and $598 per felony for cases that can take dozens, if not hundreds, of defense attorney hours. Attorneys also complained to the Tribune that they could not adequately investigate cases and represent their clients with the limited hours the courts are willing to approve and pay. This makes it extremely challenging for well-intentioned appointed attorneys to get the best possible results for their clients.

What Are Doug Murphy's Special Qualifications?

Attorney Doug Murphy is Board Certified in both Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense in Texas. The Texas Board of Legal Specializations heads up certifying attorneys in their fields. To apply, attorneys must have "substantial involvement" in criminal law, including extensive experience with felony, misdemeanor, and federal jury trials and appellate experience. Lawyers must also have the recommendation of at least five references from fellow criminal law attorneys. Four of these references must come from an attorney that the applicant has tried a case with or against.

After the application and screening process, attorneys must go through a full day of exams on effective criminal law practice, including essays and an oral exam. On top of his Board Certifications, Doug also has decades of experience representing criminal clients in Houston and across Texas.

What Is Doug's Reputation in the Houston Area?

Doug has an excellent reputation in the Houston area, both in the community and among his legal peers. In fact, U.S. News and World Report's Best Lawyers in America have named Doug "Lawyer of the Year" in Houston DWI defense. Best Lawyers selects attorneys for this honor based on the nominations and votes of attorneys in the Houston area.

Doug is also a sought-after legal educator who has spoken at more than 120 continuing legal education seminars and conferences in Texas and across the U.S. Doug also served as the Dean of the National College for DUI Defense conducted at Harvard Law School, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public and the criminal defense bar about drunk driving laws and related issues.

Why Is Doug Board Certified in Criminal Defense Law?

Doug has extensive experience litigating complex felonies and misdemeanors over decades. But experience alone isn't enough to allow a lawyer in Texas to receive Board Certification. Doug's Board Certifications in DWI Defense and Criminal Defense Law from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization demonstrate that he has the qualifications needed to handle criminal defense cases effectively.

Certifications by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization are rare. The board has only awarded a certification in one area of the law about 7,250 times since 1972. However, Doug is Board Certified in two areas of the law: DWI Defense and Criminal Defense Law. He is one of only two attorneys with both these Board Certifications in Texas.

How is a Board Certified Attorney Better Than a Court-appointed Lawyer?

Court-appointed lawyers are well-intentioned. Like most attorneys, they want to do the best job they can for their clients. But, put quite simply, public defenders and Managed Assigned Counsel are overworked and underfunded. In 2018, there were nearly half a million indigent defendants in Texas and few court-appointed attorneys to represent them. The system in Texas emphasizes quantity over quality for court appointments, because there aren't enough attorneys to meet the needs of indigent clients in the state. Moreover, not many attorneys in the Houston area have the qualifications and experience of Doug Murphy and his team.

The difference is that Doug Murphy and the team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. offer their clients a wealth of knowledge and experience. Doug is committed to offering his clients an aggressive defense, ensuring that he protects your rights throughout the criminal justice process. But Doug isn't a junkyard dog, barking at everything in the yard. Doug has decades of litigation and negotiation experience, so he takes the time to listen to you, investigate your case, and attack with precision and strategy.

What Defenses Will a Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Use Versus a Court-Appointed Lawyer?

Each case has many possible defenses, depending on the circumstances of the crime. A good attorney will consider affirmative defenses, constitutional defenses, and any weaknesses in the evidence the state presents. Affirmative defenses in Texas include:

Your attorney may also raise general defenses on your behalf, including:

  • Insanity,
  • Mistake of law,
  • Mistake of fact,
  • Entrapment,
  • Intoxication,
  • Duress,
  • Age that affects criminal responsibility, and
  • Whether the defendant is a child with a disability, mental illness, or lack of capacity.

If your attorney raises an affirmative or general defense on your behalf, you and your attorney must prove that one of these defenses existed at the time of the commission of the crime. But using one of these defenses will also require that you admit that you committed the crime or at least engaged in the events charged as a crime. So, using an affirmative or general defense can be risky for inexperienced or overworked court-appointed attorneys.

Your attorney may also challenge the evidence presented by the state. The prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a high standard. Your attorney may:

  • Challenge the accuracy of the state's evidence: This may involve attacking a witness's credibility, the authenticity or accuracy of physical evidence, and more. For example, if you are facing a DWI charge, your attorney may challenge the accuracy of the BAC testing because the police failed to calibrate the breath machine.
  • Present additional evidence: Your attorney may wish to present alternative evidence at trial. For example, if you're facing a charge for assault on a particular night, your attorney may present evidence that you were in another location at the time of the assault.
  • Move to exclude the state's evidence: Your attorney may also ask a judge to exclude evidence presented by the state from their case entirely, preventing them from using it at trial. Your attorney may move to exclude evidence collected illegally or in violation of your constitutional rights. For example, if the state seeks to use a recorded confession against you, but the police failed to inform you of your right to an attorney after your arrest, your attorney may ask the judge to exclude the confession.

While all attorneys, including court-appointed lawyers, are typically familiar with standard defenses to a criminal case, the difference is that a Board Certified criminal defense lawyer like Doug Murphy will take the time to investigate your case thoroughly, reviewing the evidence and police reports and identifying the weaknesses in the state's case. A public defender may not have the time or resources to do this on your behalf.

Contact Our Houston Board Certified Criminal Lawyer

When facing criminal charges in Texas, you shouldn't try to go it alone. The consequences of a criminal record can be serious. Aside from facing jail time and steep fines, a criminal record can affect your personal and professional life, potentially affecting child custody and visitation, your ability to hold or obtain a professional license, your ability to obtain a job or maintain some careers, your ability to own or carry a weapon, your right to vote, and more.

A Board Certified criminal defense attorney can ensure you get the best possible defense, negotiate with prosecutors, and zealously defend you in court and throughout the justice system. Attorney Doug Murphy is Board Certified in both Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense in Texas. Doug is also one of only two attorneys in the state with Board Certifications in both these niche areas.

Doug Murphy is also well-regarded by his peers, speaking at more than a hundred continuing legal education seminars and conferences for lawyers. He has also served as the Dean of the National College for DUI Defense conducted at Harvard Law School. Doug is active in the Houston legal community, serving as President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. Doug served two terms on the board of directors for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and as co-chair of the DWI Committee.

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association also presented Doug with the Sharon Levine Unsung Heroes Award for his role in exposing flaws in the Houston Police Department's Breath Alcohol Testing vans, which led to the department decommissioning the vans. Best Lawyers in America from U.S. News and World Report has also named Doug as a "Lawyer of the Year" for Houston DWI Defense.

Doug and his team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. have been defending people in Texas for years, and they can help you too. Give our firm a call at 713-229-8333 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.

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