County looks at legal counsel study

A study looking at benefits of legal representation at a first appearance before a magistrate for arrestees could be in the works in Hays County.

The Hays County Commissioner’s Court approved a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) to participate in a study examining potential benefits of such a program.

Commissioners unanimously approved the measure 4-0 with Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell absent. The grant of $136,500 will be used to pay defense attorneys attending the bail hearings of a defendant in front of a judge.

The study will be led by the Texas A&M University, The Public Policy Research Institute will explore five issues, according to TIDC applications. 

The study will try to • Does counsel at first appearance have an impact on bail and pretrial release conditions decisions?

• For those who are released pretrial, do defendants with counsel at first appearance exhibit lower rates of failing to appear than those without such representation?
• Does counsel at first appearance impact case disposition, sentencing, or pre- or post-trial recidivism?
• Does counsel at first appearance have an effect on arrestees’ attitudes toward the legal system?
• What is the cost-benefit ratio for jurisdictions interested in piloting this program? 

Currently, Hays County does not have a public defender’s office, which would provide an attorney if someone cannot afford one.

“The bail hearing – the ‘first appearance’ of a defendant in front of a judge or magistrate – constitutes an important moment where a defendant’s ability to secure their freedom is in jeopardy. Currently, counsel is not present at this juncture, which presents several problems for defendants, who are ill-suited to navigate this stage alone,” according to TIDC applications. 

Last year, commissioners failed to approve a grant that would create a public defender’s office but have since established a General Magistrate’s Division.

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