Austin, TX

Austin Chronicle discusses Travis County Court Magistration

Counsel at First Appearance - Austin Chronicle Discusses Travis County Magistration Procedures

Recently the cover of the Austin Chronicle caught my eye.  The article is covering Travis County (and other Texas jurisdictions) who do not allow Counsel at the first appearance.  This first appearance is called magistration, and it’s where the judge reads the charges, determines whether there is probable cause to support them, and sets bond amount and conditions.
Courts have decided that this is not a “critical stage” where representation by counsel is required.  I would argue – and some cases snaking their way through the court system argue – that it is in fact a critical stage and clients should be entitled to representation.  Why?  Because an attorney here can make a difference between immediate release and spending 3, 4 or even more days in custody.  And if you don’t believe that 4 days in custody is a big deal, imagine being pulled out of your life for four days without warning.  Would you be able to explain your absence to your employer?  Arrange for care?  Get your bills paid?  It can be more than an inconvenience.  It can be devastating. You may have assumed that an attorney is granted at this stage.  If you’ve watched any Law and Order, you may have seen the attorneys with their clients as they plead “not guilty”.  In fact, New York does require an attorney at this stage, but Texas does not.

Magistration in Travis County

  These days, people charged with a crime are corralled into a single room and the judge goes down the list, magistrating them in turn.  Before Covid, this used to take place within a few hours of being booked into the jail.  These days, that amount of time has expanded and take up to 48 hours.  Without an attorney, it can be dehumanizing.

But, does it matter?

  One secret that this article does not mention is that as a retained attorney, this rule does not matter much for my clients.  Why?  Because if I am retained, I will still be able to meet with my client, meet with the judge, and in some cases even waive the magistration hearing so that my client can be released more quickly.  It’s true that I am not able to stand with my client at the moment of magistration, but I would have the chance to meet with him or her, get information, call witnesses or family members, and convey information to the judge that is favorable for release.

One more economic divide in the justice system

  Unfortunately, this is yet another example showing how our justice system is gated by the affluent in society.  Clients who need court-appointed attorneys have no representation at this stage.  This can cost them days or weeks in jail until they are assigned an attorney who can present their issues or mitigating factors to a judge.  It’s unfair and it’s not how the system should work, but it is the system we have at present.

This blog post is intended for educational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  If you would like legal advice on your specific situation, visit www.atx.legal/contact or call 512-677-5003 to schedule a no-cost consultation.
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