Forward Into the Past
Opponents of HB 2656 say it is likely unconstitutional. In a letter to legislators, UT law professor Robert Dawson points to U.S. Supreme Court decisions opining that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel "attaches" as soon as a person is accused of a crime and that delaying appointment of counsel to a person out on bond would diminish that right. "Some have advocated delaying appointment of counsel, arguing that adversary judicial proceedings do not begin until a prosecutor files a formal charge in court," he writes. "The U.S. Supreme Court has squarely rejected this argument."
Under HB 1412, the elimination of the requirement that attorneys be appointed from a list of willing lawyers would return Texas' system to where it was before SB 7, with judges maintaining the right to appoint arbitrarily any lawyer to a case. That practice often led to courthouse "plea mills": lawyers keeping dockets humming by pleading their clients guilty without even a preliminary case review.
Fair Defense Act advocates said lawmakers should stick with the law and ensure that its provisions are actually being implemented statewide -- a reality that they say is still somewhere in the future. "The question now before the legislature is whether we'll follow through on [this] commitment or ... roll back the clock," said Bill Beardall, executive director of Equal Justice Center.