SAN MARCOS, TX (KXAN) — If you can not afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you, but that’s not always the case — particularly in Hays County.
On Friday, the Hays County Commissioners Court failed to approve a submission of an application for a grant that would kick start funding for a public defenders office. Hays County does not have such an entity despite seeing rapid population growth both in and out of its prisons. Judge Rube Becerra motioned for the approval, but no one offered a second motion. The Commissioners court cited lack of judicial support for the measure.
Faylita Hicks can attest to a lack of public defenders in Hays County. A few years ago, Hicks wrote a check to pay for groceries in the amount of 25 dollars. It bounced. Days later, she was taken in to custody and eventually spent 45 days incarcerated.
“I wasn’t even very clear on my charges, I wasn’t clear on the process and everyday I would not know what was going on, I would not know why I was still there,” says Hicks. “Everyone treated me like I was a villain.”
Hicks will be first to say she made a mistake back then. But she argues that the 45 days in jail could have been avoided had she been provided a public defender. She says at the time there was not one available.
“Some attorney is better than no attorney. At least with a public defender, I would speak to someone sooner and I would advocate for myself sooner,” says Hicks.
That’s one reason why Hicks has joined the Public Defenders Alliance, an advocacy group that campaings for the betterment of indigent legal representation in Hays County and all of Texas.
“The longer you take to get started that’s now many more days there’s someone in Hays County jail,” says Hicks.
Hays County Commissioners were previously scheduled to debate whether or not to apply for a grant with the Texas Indigent Defense Commission this past Tuesday. Currently, public defenders are recruited on a volunteer basis and the pay scale for that has not been updated since the 1980s. Eric Martinez, a criminal justice intern with Hays County notes that on average, the county spends just over $160 dollars a day on an inmate.
“When we don’t focus on rehabilitation and getting the proper treatment of services, we end up paying for that in the future by having them come back in to our criminal justice system,” says Martinez.
“We are trying to reduce the amount of people who are entering the criminal justice system while maintaining community safety,” adds Martinez.
Hicks says the vote was a setback, but says her group will still lobby for the creation of a public defender fund in Hays County.
“The general community can see it makes sense. [County Judge] Becerra is behind it. But the opposition consisted of a number of people who have never been behind bars or had to worry about funding for representation. We are not giving up,” says Hicks.