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How do I get a free criminal defense lawyer?

This short article was prepared by St. Mary's University School of Law, Center for Legal and Social Justice. It contains basic information only. If you have specific questions about the criminal justice system, contact a lawyer who practices in that area.

How do I request a court appointed lawyer in a criminal case?

If you are indigent—not financially able to employ counsel, as defined by Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 1.051(b)—and charged with a criminal offense higher than a class C misdemeanor, you are entitled to representation by a court-appointed lawyer. If you don’t have court-appointed counsel by your first court appearance, tell the court, right then, that you are indigent (that is, unable to afford a lawyer), and would like the court to appoint a lawyer for you. Under these circumstances, you can get your next hearing rescheduled, if you ask for it, to give you time to meet with your court-appointed lawyer about your case. Be aware that the exact procedures for requesting court-appointed lawyers vary from county to county.

What do I do if I feel like my court appointed lawyer is not doing a good job?

Unfortunately, if you are indigent and have asked for a court-appointed lawyer, you have no legal right to a court-appointed lawyer of your own choosing. So if you don’t like your court-appointed lawyer or disagree with how they are representing you, you have no right to substitute a different court-appointed lawyer. 

You can ask the court to provide you a different lawyer, but the court is not obligated to do so, and may reject your request. In that event, you might be able to obtain pro bono legal representation from other legal agencies, such as local legal aid offices, civil rights groups, and law school clinical programs.