Why Houston’s public defense system is “fundamentally unfair”


An op-ed article in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle by Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis (also the chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck calls on Harris County, Texas, and other jurisdictions nationwide to ensure that people charged with crimes in our country receive adequate representation.

Insufficient defense representation has contributed to countless wrongful convictions nationwide, and often the cause is a system that ties the hands of appointed lawyers from the start of a case.

Harris County has a court-appointed system for indigent defense. Under this system, judges create a list of eligible independent attorneys. Once an attorney is assigned to the case, a judge decides whether to grant that attorney’s requests for investigators, experts and compensation.

Too often, attorneys’ hands are tied; if they are capable of adequately defending an indigent client, the system prevents them from doing the job…l

The result: a fundamentally unfair system that places innocent people at risk of being wrongfully convicted. Not surprisingly, inadequate defense counsel has contributed to a substantial number of wrongful convictions.

… Evidence tells us that creating a public defender office is the best way to deliver quality legal services cost-effectively. But we also must invest the resources necessary to effectively defend the rights of our citizens.

Read the full article here

. (Houston Chronicle, 03/16/08)

Read more about how bad lawyering can lead to wrongful conviction in our Understand the Causes section


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