The United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution and statutes guarantee the right to counsel for anyone accused of a crime that could result in incarceration who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
TIDC cannot represent criminal defendants or provide legal advice. If you have been charged with a crime and want to request court-appointed counsel, you can contact the indigent defense coordinator, court coordinator or judge in the county where you have been charged. Each county has indigent defense plans for each type of court that explain how to request an attorney before your initial appearance. You can find this information in the "Prompt Appointment of Counsel" section of each plan.
The additional links below are provided for informational purposes based on commonly asked questions. TIDC does not endorse the agencies or organizations listed.
Your Right to Counsel in Texas
Here are frequently asked questions about the right to counsel. If you have additional questions, contact TIDC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have been accused of a felony, Class A misdemeanor, Class B misdemeanor, or a juvenile offense, you have the right to an attorney. Gideon v. Wainright, 372 U.S. 335, 344 (1963); Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, 36 (1972); In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 30 (1967); Tex. Const. art. I. You also have the right to an attorney on direct appeal. Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, 355 (1963).
The consequences of a criminal conviction—which may include fines, fees, jail time, prison time, loss of licenses, reporting requirements, access to public benefits, ability to own a firearm, child custody, housing benefits, employment, or deportation—can be serious. A lawyer can help you navigate the criminal justice system and explain criminal laws, criminal procedure, motion practice, evidentiary rules, sentencing, and mitigation. You also have the right to represent yourself, if you do not want a lawyer. Faretta v. California, 442 U.S. 806 (1975).
See the following link for helpful legal aid contacts: https://www.txcourts.gov/programs-services/legal-aid/.
If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed to you in a felony, Class A misdemeanor, Class B misdemeanor, juvenile, or direct appeal case. See Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. art. 1.051(b); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 341 (1963).
You need pay only what you can afford, which may be nothing. The court cannot bill you for attorney costs, unless it determines that you are able to pay. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. CCP 26.05(g)-(g-1); Mayer v. State, 309 S.W.3d 552, 556 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). If you do not have the ability to pay even small fees for an attorney, tell the court.
There are two times when a judge should ask you if you want a lawyer appointed to you:
You can also ask for a lawyer at any time after magistration. Title 1 Tex. Admin. Code § 174.51.
After you ask for a lawyer, you will be asked about your finances. Depending on what county you’re in, you may need to:
Try to give information that is complete and accurate as possible and ask for help if you need it. There are many questions a judge can ask about your finances, but they should not ask whether other people (except your spouse) can pay for a lawyer for you. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. art. 26.04(m). If you have special circumstances that make it harder for you to afford a lawyer (like children who are dependent on you or debt), remember to explain that to the court.
Once you have asked for a lawyer, a judge has up to three days to decide whether you financially qualify (and only one day to decide in larger counties). Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. art. 1.051(c). A judge may appoint a lawyer to you the same day you are in court, or you may hear from your lawyer soon after they are appointed. You may not hear back from the court if your request for a lawyer was denied. If you are not sure if you have a lawyer, contact the court.
You have a right to talk to your lawyer:
You have the right to a lawyer who is competent and diligent, and who communicates with you. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 685 (1984). If your lawyer will not talk to you or work on your case, ask the court for help. If the court does not help, contact the State Bar of Texas’s Client-Attorney Assistance Program: https://www.texasbar.com/Content/NavigationMenu/ForThePublic/ProblemswithanAttorney/CAAP/default.htm
Your lawyer must contact you within a day of being appointed to your case. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. art. 26.04(j)(1). This may be by sending you a letter. Your lawyer must interview as soon as practicable after they are appointed to represent you. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. art. 26.04(j)(1). The court can give you your lawyer’s name and contact information if you need it.