About the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office

Sensitive to the needs of its citizens, several counties in Northwest Texas have partnered with the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office (CRPDO), a project through the Texas Tech University School of Law Clinical Programs.The CRPDO works to give access to legal counsel and increase the quality of representation provided to indigent citizens accused of crimes. This cost-effective delivery model for indigent defense services has the ability to efficiently provide services through experienced defense counsel utilizing the resources available through the Texas Tech School of Law, including the assistance of qualified law students. The program is the first of its kind and will serve as a model for the state of Texas and possibly the entire country.

The CRPDO is funded by a grant through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (formerly Task Force on Indigent Defense). Fourteen counties are currently utilizing the service and several more counties have shown interest in the program.

The Background

The burden to provide the legal representation to the poor required by both the United States and Texas Constitutions has historically been left completely to the counties. Since 2001, however, through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission discretionary grants, and other programs, counties have been able to receive state funds to help offset those costs.

On June 9, 2010, the Texas Indigent Defense Commission approved over $2.5 million in new funding to Texas counties to improve their indigent defense systems.As part of this grant, Dickens County was awarded $566,701 for the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office. In September 2010, Dickens County put out a request for proposals for the CRPDO and Texas Tech University’s was selected.

The Benefits

The repercussions from pleading as a pro se defendant can be lifelong and detrimental.The legal process is confusing and complicated, which often leads to misunderstandings of one’s rights and the long-term ramifications of being convicted of a crime. This program provides education and counsel, and helps to protect basic constitutional rights.

The program is free and does not pull from the counties resources for the first two years.Thereafter, cost of the program will be assessed incrementally every two years until the county pays 100 percent of the program cost for indigent defense after a 10-year period. Currently, counties are only receiving reimbursement for a percentage of the actual costs from the state for indigent defense. With current statewide budget cuts, this program gives counties the opportunity to spend funds, which would have been spent for indigent defense, on other expenses to benefit the county as a whole.

With the great distances throughout the 16-county region and the ever-increasing need to conserve limited resources, state of the art video-conferencing equipment has been placed in the CRPDO in Lubbock, in each courthouse utilizing the CRPDO, and in each jail servicing the region.With the cooperation of the courts, trips to the counties will be consolidated and limited to conserve resources.

The CRPDO currently serves Armstrong, Briscoe, Cottle, Dawson, Dickens, Floyd, Gaines, Hardeman, Kent, King, Knox, Motley, Stonewall, and Swisher counties.

The School of Law

The Texas Tech University School of Law Clinical Program has a well-established Criminal Defense Clinic with extensive procedures and models of effective student supervision in the delivery of indigent defense services, which has been integrated into this program.The quality of legal representation is enhanced by the use of energetic third year Texas Tech University law students closely supervised by experienced defense attorneys employed by the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office.

Donnell Yandell (Tech Law '01) serves as the Chief Public Defender for the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office. Irma Shepler joined the Clinic in the Fall 2012 as the Legal Assistant. CRPDO began taking cases in January 2011. The Clinic includes 8 law students and the hope is that the Clinic will expand to three lawyers and a maximum of 24 students in the near future.

One of the primary goals of this project is the opportunity to use inter-disciplinary research to inform the bench, bar, governmental entities and criminal justice stakeholders as to cost-effective methods of delivering indigent defense services in a manner that could be a model for replication in other underserved areas.