A new study of Missouri’s Public Defender system says it is the worst of all the states that have state public defender systems because all three branches of government have ignored its problems for years.
The report done for the Center for Justice, Law, and Society at George Mason University says the caseload crisis virtually guarantees Public Defenders will fail despite what it calls “heroic” efforts.
The report says the program has been chronically under-funded for almost two decades.The lead author of the report, Robert Spangenberg, says some people who should be represented are not given that chance. “There has been a consistent effort by the state public defender to modify its eligibility standards downward. We found that a large number of people who are qualified under the statute and under the rules of the Missouri Supreme Court are not getting lawyers because there just are too many cases,” he says.
The report says guidelines to control work overloads mean some people able to raise a few hundred dollars for bond are considered ineligible for a public defender. The report says indigent defendants might be better off if they don’t try to get out on bond.
Spangenberg’s report says the system needs millions of dollars…He acknowledges this is not a good time for the state to find that money. But he says the state neglected the system even when times were good.
George Mason University is in Fairfax, Virginia.