Smith County has received less than half the grant funds from the state to help pay for indigent defense in 2012 than it has in the past five years, according to information received from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
The Texas Legislature passed The Fair Defense Act in 2001, directing county and district judges to appoint an attorney for a defendant who cannot pay for one.
The commission, formerly the Task Force for Indigent Defense, awards all 254 counties in Texas with funds for defense for the poor for each biennium based on population.
The commission awarded more than $12 million in grants to Texas counties this year for indigent defense, according to a news release. About 60 counties were awarded a total of $2.1 million to offset increased indigent defense costs.
There are several reasons for Smith County not receiving an equalization grant in 2012, including the fact that Texas had a $7 million reduction in those funds for disbursement this year, so only 60 counties were awarded equalization funds, Ms. Wilson said.
“The counties awarded were those that had exceeded the state average for expenditure. Smith County has never exceeded the state average but has been the recipient of equalization funds in prior years before the cutback of available funds for disbursement,” Ms. Wilson said.
“The indigent defense expenses will fluctuate every year and are driven by a number of things such as capital murder trials which bear a greater expense,” she said.
The commission distributes funds to Texas counties through a formula that sets a $5,000 minimum for each grant, with the remainder based on a county's percent of population (estimated by the Texas Data Center in the preceding year) multiplied by the commission's remaining budgeted amount for the population formula grant.
Counties must meet minimum spending requirements to qualify, according to the commission.
Other reasons Smith County did not receive the equalization fund include fewer felony, misdemeanor and juvenile cases filed, and a drop in court-appointed counsel in 2011, said Bryan Wilson, the commission's grants administrator.