Being accused of a crime is not only a stressful and onerous process but ensuring proper legal representation can result in massive fees and expenses that the average American is often unequipped to take on. With nearly 4 million Texans living below the poverty line, it is disheartening but unsurprising to learn that many Hays County residents are unable to afford an attorney. While the right to an attorney is enshrined in the United States Constitution, it is notoriously difficult to obtain a court-appointed attorney in Texas and regardless, the right to an attorney is unprotected in civil cases for non-criminal manners. As such, it is important for those who cannot afford representation to learn more about legal aid and become familiar with what their options are for Hays County legal aid.
What is Legal Aid?
Legal aid is free legal assistance given to low and middle-class individuals dealing with problems that typically pertain to the Civil Court such as family law and domestic violence; housing and homelessness; immigration; employment law; disability and government assistance; healthcare; taxes; and much more.
In Texas, legal aid is usually granted to individuals or households earning anywhere up to 125% of the federal poverty level. Therefore to qualify an individual must make no more than $16,988 per year and a family of four must make no more than $34,688 per year. 5.2 million Texans currently qualify for legal aid with Texas lawyers devoting $564 million worth of free legal services to those in need in the state each year.
Where Can I Find Hays County Legal Aid?
The Hays County website has a Legal Information Resources page with helpful links to legal assistance. These resources include:
- Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas- Free Legal Advice Clinics: During the last Wednesday of most months an online, 30-minute, free consultation can be scheduled with a licensed Hays County attorney. There are also a limited number of walk-ins available from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm in the Accelerator Building of the Austin Community College.
- Central Texas Law Referral: Provides instant online or over-the-phone referrals to local Hays County pro bono attorneys.
- State Bar of Texas: Provides free legal information on a myriad of subjects on its website.
- Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc: Provides free legal aid services to applicants meeting various income, asset, and immigration requirements. A telephone hotline service is available to aid in the application process.
- Texas State University: The Attorney’s For Student’s program provides all currently enrolled students with helpful legal counsel, a limited degree of representation, and educational information regarding one’s legal rights and obligations.
What if I Don’t Qualify for Legal Aid?
There are many instances in which you may not qualify for legal aid. While the Constitution holds that the court must appoint a public defender to those facing jail time who cannot afford to hire their own representation, Texas leaves it up to each county to decide who qualifies for court-appointed representation. This has led to 181 different standards to qualify for public defense across 254 counties and tons of red tape for those who in other states have little issue obtaining a lawyer. Combine this with the complicated and extensive requirements for legal assistance, and, unfortunately, many individuals who should qualify for legal aid or a public defender are being forced to pay for representation. Here are some of the options available to those who do not qualify for Hays County legal aid:
- Lawyer Referral Information Service: Recommended by the Texas Judicial Branch, those who do not qualify for legal aid can contact this service at 1-800-252-9690 and have a 30-minute consultation with a Texas-licensed attorney for just $20. During this consultation, an individual may discuss the possibility of further representation. While this service does not provide free or reduced-fee legal assistance, it is a good starting point for those seeking counsel.
- Court Fee Waivers: If you can prove that you are a recipient of government financial assistance (such as food stamps, Medicaid, or public housing), are financially eligible for legal aid services but could not acquire help from a legal aid service, or do not have enough money to pay your court fees and your household’s basic needs, you can ask the judge to waive your court fees. If your court fees are waived you will not have to pay any fees charged by the court or an officer of the court including fees for a court-appointed attorney.