I appreciate Michael King’s recent article about the efforts of Travis County and the community to create a public defender’s office [“In Search of Greater Justice
,” News, May 24]. I did want to make one comment in reference to the views expressed by some in this article that the outcome gap between retained and indigent defense is the result of a defendant’s socioeconomic status.
The Travis County Mental Health Public Defender’s Office, which serves the same indigent clients as the Capital Area Private Defender Service, has consistently achieved a higher percentage of dismissals than managed assigned counsel. Indeed, a recent study conducted by Travis County Justice Planning (2016) found that 47% of clients served by the Mental Health Public Defender received dismissals on their legal cases, while clients served by managed assigned counsel only had their cases dismissed 19% of the time. Clients served by the Mental Health Public Defender Office also received less punitive criminal sentences when compared to clients served by managed assigned counsel. In this evaluation, researchers examined all misdemeanant defendants who were indigent, suffering from mental illness, and who had their legal cases disposed by the courts during fiscal years 2009-2014.
Ultimately, this study, which is noteworthy because it focused on the justice outcomes of indigent clients, is another evidence-based study that suggests that a public defender model is a best practice for increasing equity in the Travis County Criminal Courts.
W. Carsten Andresen