Few people expect to get into trouble with the law, be it from a civil lawsuit, a misdemeanor traffic violation, or even a serious felony charge. And for better or worse — and it’s usually for worse — many Americans have learned much of what they know about the legal system from watching TV.
Unfortunately, binge-watching old episodes of “Law and Order” doesn’t prepare you for the complex and harsh reality of a real-life courtroom. Many people assume that if they were to be charged with a crime, they would be provided with an attorney to represent them in court. After all, that’s what they always say on TV and in the movies, “You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you by the court.”
If only it were that simple. The Miranda rights can vary from state to state, but here’s one common version:
“You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.”
Despite what many people believe, the Miranda rights do not guarantee you the right to a free attorney provided by the court. Plus, many cash-strapped U.S. states use a very, very strict interpretation of the phrase, “If you cannot afford an attorney…” And that’s left many defendants in a dangerous middle ground: not poor enough to qualify for a public defender, but not wealthy enough to hire a criminal defense lawyer either.
Indeed, that’s exactly the situation in nearby Louisiana, which is in the midst of a full-blown “public defender meltdown” so far in 2016. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country, with its public defenders representing 250,000 defendants a year. With the state facing a major budget crisis, it can no longer afford to provide public defenders for many people, and over half of the state’s public defender offices will soon run out of money altogether.
“It’s a nightmare,” said James Dixon, the Chief Louisiana Public Defender. “You have people in jail that don’t have lawyers. It’s that basic.”
On top of that, there are all the non-criminal legal situations that require a lawyer, like creating living wills or granting a spouse power of attorney. Texas Legal was created by the State Bar of Texas to provide exactly these kinds of affordable legal assistance to Texans. Even though few of us expect to end up in a courtroom, most Americans will at some point in their lives. Each year, 1.4 million Americans are arrested for their first DUI, while nearly four in 10 marriages end in divorce. Then there are other basic legal needs, like estate planning in Texas, power of attorney documents, and child custody disputes.
So many Americans lack the basic tools they need to obtain legal assistance in times of need. Without affordable legal advice, far too many Texans lack the ability to grant power of attorney to loved ones, leaving them vulnerable. That’s why it’s crucial to make plans before you need Texas legal help, and that’s where Texas Legal comes in.