Program may lower costs to county in capital cases


Sept. 13, 2010 at 4:13 a.m.

Victoria County could join forces with other counties to help hold down the local cost of providing defense for indigents in capital cases.

Jack Stoffregen, with the Regional Public Defenders Office for Capital Cases, told the commissioners court Monday his office is expanding. He said that expansion could include Victoria County, if it would like to join.

Stoffregen described the program as being like an insurance program where counties pool their resources to cover the cost of indigent defense in capital cases when the death penalty is sought.

"You insure your roof against catastrophe and hope it doesn't happen," he said. "This is much the same way."

Other counties that would be eligible to participate in the program in the Crossroads include Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Jackson, Karnes and Refugio.

While the court took no action, County Judge Don Pozzi asked for a copy of the agreement and any other information Stoffregen would like to provide. He said he would assume the cost to the county to join would be less than what it's paying now for indigent defense.

Pozzi said he's requested information from a district judge on the local costs, but hasn't received that yet.

"We, of course, know from our budget what our indigent defense costs are," he said. "They are out of of sight, as they are in any other county this size or larger."

Pozzi said the item will be placed on a later agenda.

Stoffregen said it's constitutionally mandated in a capital case where the death penalty is being sought that a core team of defenders be provided. That includes a first chair attorney, a second chair attorney, a mitigation specialist and a fact investigator.

"The expense to the counties is enormous to provide that," he said. "As you would imagine, most defendants in these cases are indigent."

Those costs could range from $100,000 to more than $1 million, Stoffregen said. His office has received a $1.5 million grant to expand the program into 52 counties beginning Oct. 1 as long as the population is less than 300,000.

The program would initially be provided without charge to Victoria County. It would be expected to pay $33,562 beginning Oct. 1, 2011, and that number would increase to $111,872 five years later.

The cost is based on population and the average number of capital cases over the past 10 years. In Victoria's case, that's 2.2 cases per year.

He estimated Victoria County has about four or five months to make a decision.



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