Some criminal defendants requesting a court-appointed lawyer in Waco, Texas’ McLennan County have received something very different: a visit from a detective, reports the Texas Tribune. Last November, the county assigned sheriff's detective Eric Carrizales to investigate whether defendants requesting a lawyer are really as poor as they say they are. Local officials praised the unusual idea as a way to save the county money by rooting out false claims by people who can afford to hire a private attorney.
The scheme has drawn criticism from criminal defense advocates, who warn that low-income defendants are being intimidated into waiving their right to a lawyer. “It's savings at the expense of defendants’ rights,” said Andrea Marsh of the Texas Fair Defense Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the public defense system. “Defendants are not pursuing counsel because they don't want to let an investigator into their house.” The issue highlights the challenges facing Texas' county-based approach to meeting the constitutional obligation of providing lawyers to those who can't afford one. Texas ranked among the bottom five states in per-capita spending on indigent defense in 2008, according to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.