NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - County Commissioners in Nacogdoches recently received a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. These funds are sent to reimburse the county for the cost of court-appointed attorneys, one of the many unfunded mandates from the state.
“Everyone is entitled to a fair trial," said Nacogdoches County Judge Greg Sowell. "If they can’t afford representation, then they must be appointed an attorney.”
Commissioners don’t oppose the mandates themselves, rather the fact that the state requires Texas counties to see them through with little or no financial assistance. On Wednesday, commissioners said they received a grant from the state to help fund court-appointed attorneys, but Sowell says it wasn’t very much.
“Last year we spent $316,000 roughly on just indigent defense," Sowell said. "Of that, we were reimbursed by the state $42,377.”
One of the more expensive mandates for the county, attorneys say it’s an important part of the judicial process.
“What a lot of people don’t realize, as a criminal defense lawyer, I’m a part of the checks and balance in the system to make sure that an innocent person doesn’t get wrongly convicted," attorney John Boundy said. "If the state comes in and says you did something wrong, there has to be someone willing and able to stand up for you and say prove it. “
Boundy has served as a criminal defense attorney since 2008. He says that while defending appointed clients can be a challenge, the right to a fair trial is worth the cost.
“The guilt or innocence of a person isn’t the focus when I’m representing someone," Boundy said. "It’s making sure that the system, the checks and balances, have been sustained and fulfilled.”
But Sowell and commissioners still want legislators at the state level to remember one thing about mandates like indigent defense.
“Remember and please be aware of what it’s gonna cost the local taxpayers,” Sowell said.