County secures Padilla grant for pilot program

Hays County will be getting a grant for $342,720 from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TDIC) as part of the Regional Padilla Compliance Pilot Program.

The money will provide assistance for criminal defense attorneys who represent defendants who are not citizens of the U.S.

In that role, it will boost the county’s ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice center, Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe pointed out during a brief Commissioners Court discussion prior to a vote to accept the grant, which was unanimous.

“This is something that’s been lacking,” Ingalsbe said of the funds that will provide technical support to criminal defense attorneys in the county and eventually across the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region, which covers 26 Texas counties.

“This grant will fill a gap in our ongoing review of the countywide criminal justice reform we’re undertaking,” she said. “We hope criminal defense attorneys embrace the expert assistance that will be available for their clients’ defense,” said Ingalsbe, who is also a member of the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission.

The award marks the first time such services will be available in rural areas in the state of Texas.

“I’m very excited about this, it’s the first in the state and we get to be the host,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, who is also on the criminal justice commission. “We have a kickoff meeting coming up … I’m very excited.”

County Judge Ruben Becerra thanked both commissioners for their work on securing the grant. “This is no light feat. I’m grateful for the commissioners’ work. I appreciate the heavy lifting.”

The pilot program stems from a 2010 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants who are not citizens must be advised by their attorneys about the deportation risk of entering a guilty plea.

It was named for José Padilla, a native of Honduras, who had been a permanent resident for 40 years and was also a Vietnam veteran.

When he was charged with transporting marijuana, Padilla’s attorney wrongfully told him deportation wasn’t likely if he was found guilty given his longtime residency. Based on that advice, he entered a guilty plea, which all but assured deportation.

The case first went to the Kansas Supreme Court, which denied Padilla’s petition for relief. It was later accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hays County had applied for the money in July. The grant requires no matching funds, but it does require quarterly reports, as well as a written plan of operation which is due with the first of those reports.

In an unrelated matter, the county was also recently awarded $61,341 from the TIDC for an indigent defense coordinator.

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