The criminal justice system is stacked against indigent defendants. The disadvantages indigent defendants face are exacerbated when mixed with the unique qualities of rural America.

For instance, rural court-assigned attorneys are often picked through ad hoc systems by the very judges these attorneys must appear in front of, creating a judicial conflict of interest. The financial realities of rural public defense work often force counsel to manage a private practice while also balancing court-appointed cases. To the extent integral resources like investigators or experts are present in rural spaces, they are seldom used. This Note highlights the way Texas organizes its public defense system as an example of how the unique properties of rural America interact with our criminal justice system to create substandard representation. As a solution, this Note proposes that rural counties should pool together resources to create centralized, regional public defender offices that serve multiple counties. Centralized offices, rather than private attorneys selected by judges to represent indigent defendants on an ad hoc basis, would sever judicial conflicts of interest; they would allow defenders to focus on their indigent clients rather than be forced to manage a separate practice; and they would have the ability to retain in-house services like investigators. Because establishing these centralized offices requires increased state funding and political will, this Note concludes by analyzing impact litigation lawsuits in several states that successfully improved rural public defense.