Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Yet another reason why it sucks to be poor
Nowhere in the warning does it say that the government could come and ask you to pay for your appointed lawyer's services.
Kelly Unterburger found that out the hard way. After being arrested in 2011 for possession of a controlled substance, Mr. Unterburger asked the court to appoint him an attorney because he was indigent. By the time his case was resolved in 2014 (he spent the entire time in jail), he was presented with a bill from Johnson County for almost $10,000.
The State of Texas allows counties to recoup the cost of appointed attorneys from defendants, provided they warn defendants that they will be held responsible for the fees.
Prior to September 1, the government had until sentencing to determine whether or not a defendant would be required to pay for his or her appointed attorney. That determination was made on a defendant's financial status up to that point. A new law makes it possible for counties to come back at any time during a defendant's sentence (whether he be in prison, jail or on probation) to re-evaluate the defendant's ability to pay the fees.
Hill County District Attorney Mark Pratt says the bill was designed to protect the interest of law-abiding citizens who are being asked to pay for counsel for indigent defendants.
The real purpose of the law is to coerce more indigent defendants to plead their cases early in the process in order not to run up high attorney fees. The new law serves to punish those who exercise their right to trial by jury in a criminal case.
This is part of a larger war on the poor that has been waged for decades in this country - and in this state. Most defendants are indigent to one degree or another. They spend months, if not years, in jail awaiting the resolution of their cases because of our for-profit bail bond system. Then, once the case is resolved they get hit with a bill for attorney fees.
Meanwhile the wheels of our criminal (in)justice system just keep a-chugging along.