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Democratizing Criminal Defense Data

Our organization, Open Austin, in partnership with Texas Fair Defense Project, began creating a database for criminal court case records that were previously siloed within their respective county websites.   The goal of this work is to visualize this data to help policymakers, advocates, and everyday people understand the current state of defense representation in their communities and, where appropriate, advocate for improvements.

How are we determining evidence of representation?

As determined by our legal experts, filing motions, such as motion in limine,  motion for speedy trial,  motion to suppress,   motion for production,  and motion to reduce bond are forms of legal representation.

Keep in mind that we are only looking at records from a court file, which will never be able to tell the whole story about the attorney-client relationship. It is possible for a person to get great representation without their lawyer filing any of these motions, or for a lawyer to neglect their client’s case even if one of these motions is filed. We are using motions as a proxy because most of the time, filing at least one of these motions is a good indicator that a lawyer is putting effort into their client’s case.

Note: We are in the process of scraping case outcomes, but we do not have this data available yet.
In the future, we intend to compare outcomes with attorney type.

Why does evidence of representation matter?

Typically, poorer people with appointed counsel go through the legal system without the zealous advocacy that a retained attorney or well-funded institutional public defender might provide because their appointed attorneys do not have the time to investigate a variety of legal strategies in each case.

Try it out yourself

Try out the dashboard and see for yourself what the differences are between the representation people get from court-appointed lawyers and privately-retained lawyers. You can compare different kinds of cases and different specific kinds of motions.

How does this disparity look over time?

This description will change once we have more recent data.

A lot has changed over the past ## years. We wanted to know whether attorney representation has changed over time and, if so, what might have caused those changes - so we mapped out the data over time. Here we see ...

Differences in charge category based on attorney type

We wanted to know whether certain kinds of cases are more likely to have retained lawyers than court-appointed lawyers. There are a lot of similarities between the kinds of cases represented by court-appointed and retained lawyers.

We noticed that with all the cases grouped by their charge category, there is a higher representation of DUI offenses in cases with retained attorneys compared to those with court-appointed attorneys. Similarly, there is a higher representation of property charges within cases with court-appointed attorneys.

What type of attorneys are represented more per charge category?

Need copy here.


What's next for this project?

  • We currently only have data from Hayes County, but intend to expand that to all Texas counties.

  • Because of the difficulty in formatting for outcomes among all case records, we are still working on scraping final verdicts.

  • Race and gender data is limited in our current dataset. In the future, we plan to publish this aggregate demographic information.