Understanding the Role of the Criminal Defense Attorney in Texas

The legal system in Texas can be intricate, and when facing criminal charges, having proper representation is crucial. Here, we will delve into what a “criminal defense attorney” means in the specific context of Texas, breaking down their roles, responsibilities, and comparing them with the figure of the prosecutor.

The Role of the Prosecutor: Defining the State Attorney

Who is the Prosecutor?

The prosecutor, also known as the state attorney, is a legal professional representing the government in criminal cases. Their role is defined by statute.  According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, “the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.” If someone is accused of a crime in Texas, the prosecutor’s job is to prove the criminal charges in a court of law.  

Whom They Represent:

The prosecutor works on behalf of the State of Texas and, consequently, represents the interests of society. Their primary objective is to ensure justice is served and those who violate the law face the appropriate consequences.

What does a prosecutor do?

The prosecutor is tasked with presenting evidence against the accused in Court, seeking convictions, and ensuring a fair sentence in accordance with Texas law. Their main focus is the prosecution of crimes and the protection of the community.

Prosecutors have full discretion to pursue criminal charges.  They also have the absolute discretion to dismiss charges and not pursue a criminal case against someone.

The Criminal Defense Attorney: Advocates for Individual Rights

What is a Criminal Defense Attorney?

A criminal defense attorney is a legal advocate who defends individuals accused of committing crimes in both state and federal court. Their role is to ensure their clients’ rights are protected and that they receive fair representation under the law.

Whom They Represent:

In contrast to the prosecutor, the criminal defense attorney exclusively represents their client, the accused. Their loyalty and primary responsibility lie with the individual seeking their legal counsel.


The responsibilities of a criminal defense attorney include thorough case investigation, presenting robust defenses, providing legal advice to their client, and ensuring their constitutional rights are respected throughout the legal process.

Court-Appointed Attorney vs. Private Counsel: What’s the Difference?

Court-Appointed Attorney:

A court-appointed attorney, also known as a public defender, is assigned by the court to represent those who cannot afford private legal services. These attorneys play a crucial role in the justice system to ensure everyone has access to legal representation.

Private Counsel:

A private attorney is directly hired by the accused or their family. Unlike court-appointed attorneys, private lawyers work for the specific interests of their clients and are compensated for their services.

Advantages of Hiring Private Counsel in Texas

1. Personalized Attention:

Private attorneys often have a lower caseload, allowing them to provide more personalized attention to their clients. They can dedicate additional time and resources to case preparation.

2. Specialized Expertise:

Private attorneys often have specialized experience in certain types of cases. This specialization can make a significant difference in the quality of the defense they provide.

3. Greater Resources:

Private attorneys typically have more resources at their disposal for investigation, hiring experts, and presenting evidence, significantly strengthening a case’s defense.

4. Right to Choose your Attorney:

If you are assigned a court appointed attorney, you do not get to choose the attorney you are appointed.  In contrast, if you hire a private attorney, you have the right to hire any attorney that you may choose.  Hiring a private attorney allows you to hire the best possible attorney for your case.  

In summary, while prosecutors represent the state and enforce the criminal laws of Texas, criminal defense attorneys advocate for the individual rights of the accused. The choice between a court-appointed attorney and private counsel in Texas can make a difference in the outcome of a case, with private representation offering significant benefits in terms of personalized attention and dedicated resources.

Jorge Vela

Jorge Vela

Jorge Vela is a seasoned attorney with experience in both prosecution and defense. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and the University of Texas School of Law, he has served as a felony prosecutor in Webb County and an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Texas. In 2017, he worked as an Assistant District Attorney for Travis County. Since 2018, Jorge has been a criminal defense attorney, leveraging his extensive experience to protect the rights of individuals accused of a crime through his practice, the Law Office of Jorge Vela.

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