Can a judge revoke my probation because I can’t afford a lawyer but refuses to acknowledge my request for appointed counsel?

I requested a court-appointed attorney at my pre-trial in jail. Once I bonded out the judge refused to give me a court appointed attorney and has threatened to revoke my bond and put me in jail despite me telling him that I do not have a job and can’t afford an attorney. I was never offered an application to fill out to prove indigence. I have appeared in court 3 times now. He has given me 1 week to hire an attorney or he states he will revoke my bond and put me in jail and then give me a court appointed attorney. He states that because I bonded out I should be able to afford an attorney.

Asked on November 16, 2012 under Criminal Law, Texas


B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The judge cannot revoke your probation just because you cannot hire an attorney.  However, the judge can deny your request for a court-appointed attorney if he determines that you can afford one.  It sounds like the judge just doesn't believe you when you say you cannot afford one.  Here are some things that you can do to help your situation:   First, gather any info or documents that you have about your financial status.  For example, if you currently receive unemployment, disabiity, or food stamp benefits, then take copies of this paperwork with you to the court to show that you have qualified for other financial aid because of your unemployment.  If someone else posted your bond for you, take a letter from the bondsman showing that you did not post the bond, but rather a third party did.  If you have a bank account, take a print off of your account status to show you have no funds in the bank with which to pay for a lawyer.  Essentially, take everything that you need to prove you just can afford an attorney and present them to the judge.  

Your second step is to contact at least four attorneys for quotes.  After you visit with the attorney, ask for their business card and write the quote down on the back of the card.  When you return to the court, you will be able to show the judge that you have made a diligent effort and because of the finances (that you have proof of above) you still cannot retain an attorney. 

When you return to court, the goal is to show the court that you are sincere in your inability to pay and that you have made an effort.  If you have any funds (let's say $200.00), then offer to the judge to pay into the registry of the court this $200.00 as a payment towards a court appointed attorney.  Many judges like this type of offer because it shows that you are sincere and you're not just asking for a free ride.  You probably shouldn't have to go this far, but it's better than going to a hearing without an attorney, getting your probation revoked, and then trying to perfect an appeal from prison. 

These steps should work to get the judge's attention (or at least the prosecutor who is not going to want to have to deal with an appeal later).  However, if the judge is still being difficult and he does force you to go to trial, then you need to make sure that the information you gathered above makes it into the record.  Before the hearing starts, you need to make the following statement while the court reporter is taking down the case, "Your honor, before this hearing begins, I want to note for the record that I am not waiving my right to an attorney and I, even though I cannot afford an attorney, my requests for an attorney have been denied, and I object to this hearing going forward without representation."  This objection will probably prompt the prosecutor to ask for an attorney for you.  A smart one would.  If they don't, then you have preserved your complaint for the record which will give you a valid appellate point.  When the judge asks you to enter a plea to allegations in the motion to revoke - true or not true- tell the judge that you will not enter a plea without the assistance of counsel.  Once you enter a plea of true, then it will hurt your appeal.  During the revocation hearing, the state will most likely call your probation officer.  You will have a chance to ask this person questions.  This will be a good opportunity for you to further develop you inability to pay with questions like "Isn't it true that I brought you documentation of my unemployment,"  or "Isn't it true that you verified I have been unemployed for six months?"  This witness can actually become your star witness of the issue of the inability to pay.  If the judge still revokes you and sends you to prison, you need to get with the legal services end in TDCJ to help you with an appeal.  If you've done the steps above, you will have a very good chance of having it overturned because of the violation of your right to counsel and inability to pay.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.