Do rights matter if you don’t know about them?
In Texas defendants plead guilty every day without ever talking to a criminal defense lawyer. Prosecutors and judges love this because it moves the docket and keep costs down.
Cases with defense lawyers take longer because we actually explain things like;
Why a stop is illegal;
Why the state’s witness won’t hold up at trial;
Why the state’s plea offer may be bad;
Why the defendant needs to pay us before the next court date,
It seems that some judges encourage defendants to talk with the prosecutor before hearing a defendant’s request for a court appointed lawyer. Why? Because most defendants will plead guilty and the county won’t have to pay for an attorney. I never experienced this but the Texas Fair Defense Project has a great analysis of the problem in Texas.
HB 1178 would ensure that no defendant pleads guilty without signing a waiver of his right to an attorney. It ends the practice of prosecutors plea bargaining with pro se defendants. Prosecutors are not exited about 1178. See the TDCAA discussion.
Their main complaints about 1178 are 1) It will take more time and 2) They feel insulted that anyone would think a Texas prosecutor is only out to convict, not to see that justice is done.
I was a DA and worked with a written waiver process that complies with the statute. It worked great. The judge asked each defendant if he wanted to hire a lawyer, fill out a pauper’s oath, or talk to me and sign a waiver.
90% would sign the waiver. Out of those I could get 90% to plead guilty and accept my plea offer. If you are a lawyer you can always convince someone with less than a high school education to take a plea bargain. It’s not hard.
Defendant’s want the process to end so they do not have to keep coming back to court or go try and hire an attorney. The process of being a defendant is more stressful than probation for many.
Quick pleas are great for judicial economy, not for justice. Criminal charges carry serious consequences. From DWI to POM a guilty plea can affect your life forever. Anyone should be allowed to plead guilty if they make an informed decision. But the huge disparitiy in education and experience between a pro se defendant and a prosecutor creates a situation ripe for abuse. HB 1178 is a step in the right direction.