2019 Legislation: Defense-Related Reform

Public defender offices can be critical for low-income defendants who cannot otherwise afford a criminal defense attorney. The bill below will prioritize public defender appointments (over state bar appointments) in particular cases, as well as clarify the limited instances when exceptions can be made.

SB 583 (Author: Hinojosa | Sponsor: Rose), Relating to the appointment of a local public defender’s office to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases. Prior to passage of this bill, certain judges trying criminal cases were required to adopt and publish written countywide procedures for the timely and fair appointment of counsel for indigent defendants. This bill now requires those procedures to prioritize appointment of a public defender’s office (PDO) in a criminal proceeding, including a proceeding in a capital murder case, when a county has a PDO. However, also per this bill, the court is not required to appoint the PDO if:

  • the court makes a finding of good cause for appointing other counsel, provided that, in a capital murder case, that finding is made on the record;
  • the appointment would be contrary to the PDO’s written plan (which, among other things, includes its maximum allowable caseloads and a conflict of interest policy); or
  • the PDO is prohibited from accepting the appointment due to a conflict of interest, insufficient resources to provide adequate representation, inability to provide counsel in accordance with rules of professional conduct, violation of maximum allowable caseloads, or other good cause.
Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2019