Under Texas law, individuals can be required to pay for their court-appointed defense attorney. While the Court of Criminal Appeals has clarified that a court must determine that a defendant actually has the ability to pay attorney fees before ordering them to do so, not all courts follow the law. In Lamar County, a local defense attorney, relatively new to Texas, was shocked when he saw defendants ordered to pay money they didn’t have for a court-appointed attorney, and then threatened with jail if they missed payments.
In May of 2016, Quinton Thomas, a native St Louisan was pulled over in Beverly Hills, a Missouri town of 574 people that is 93% black and receives 26% of its general revenue from court fines and fees. Mr. Thomas was driving his friend to a barber shop to get his haircut when he was stopped by police for having a “busted front bumper.” In the past three years, Mr. Thomas has been pulled over, arrested and jailed for unpaid traffic tickets, and as a result he has lost two jobs and one vehicle, not to mention days of his life, and a sense of safety when he gets behind the wheel.