TexasLawHelp, because of conditions on its funding, can provide only limited information on criminal law.
The following information from the Texas Fair Defense Project is designed to help you through the process of requesting an appointed lawyer in Texas courts. This material is not a substitute for the advice of a lawyer—it’s just a roadmap to help you ask for a court-appointed lawyer if you are accused of a crime and can’t afford to hire a lawyer on your own.
Ask for a lawyer early in the process.
The court system is complex and having a lawyer by your side is important. Even if you feel like you just need someone to explain what’s going on, ask for a defense lawyer as soon as you get a chance.
After an arrest, you will be brought before a magistrate, who will read you your rights and determine your eligibility for bail. Tell the magistrate you want to request a court-appointed lawyer, and ask to fill out a written application for appointment of counsel. If the magistrate tells you that you cannot ask for a lawyer, or that you don’t need a lawyer, politely insist on your right to request a court-appointed lawyer.
If you do not request a lawyer from the magistrate, you still may request an application for appointment of counsel – ask the jailer or court administrator for the proper forms. If you are brought to court and either have not submitted a written application for appointment of counsel by that time or have not received a response to a previous request for a court-appointed lawyer, you should inform the judge that you want a court-appointed lawyer.
Ask to complete a written request for court-appointed counsel.
Whether you are speaking with a magistrate, court administrator, or to the judge, you should ask to make a written request for a court-appointed lawyer. The name of the form for submitting a written request for counsel varies by county, and might be called “Application for Appointment of Counsel” or “Appointment Request Form.” Ask for this form when you ask the magistrate, jailer, court administrator, or judge for a court-appointed lawyer or for help in requesting a court-appointed lawyer.
Ask to complete a financial questionnaire.
Most counties will require that you submit a form providing financial information that demonstrates that you cannot afford to hire a lawyer before they will approve your request for a court-appointed lawyer. The requested financial information will include information on your income and expenses. The county may ask for your financial information on the application for counsel or on a separate form often called a “financial affidavit” or financial questionnaire. When you ask for an application for counsel, ask if there is a separate financial form that you need to fill out in order to complete your written request for a court-appointed lawyer.
Document your finances.
If you go to court without a lawyer and want to ask the court to appoint you a lawyer, it is useful to bring pay stubs, bank statements, and copies of your monthly bills with you to court, particularly if you have been released on bond. These documents will help the court determine whether you qualify to receive a court-appointed lawyer.
Sometimes judges and other officials will put off your request for a court-appointed lawyer, usually by telling you to try to hire a lawyer. If the judge asks or tells you to try to hire a lawyer, be certain to speak to at least two lawyers before your next court date. If possible, have these lawyers give you a written estimate of what it would cost to hire them in your case. Be certain that the price the lawyers give you reflects the reality of your case—for example, if you believe you are innocent and want to go to trial, the cost of a lawyer will be significantly higher than if you want a lawyer to help you understand your plea options and plea bargain with a prosecutor. If you cannot afford the prices the lawyers quote you, you should return to court and again ask the court to appoint you a lawyer. Be prepared to tell the court about your efforts to hire a lawyer on your own.
Always show up for court.
Never skip court because you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, even if the judge said that you had to hire a lawyer before your next court date and you don’t have enough money to do that. Just keep asking for a lawyer and filling out written requests for appointment of counsel every time you go to court. Skipping court will lead to a warrant being issued for your arrest.
If you have requested a court-appointed lawyer and feel that your request was wrongly denied, you can request assistance via Texas Fair Defense Project's web form.
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