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Missouri public defenders seek $25M in increased funding, citing ABA study

Posted Feb 20, 2014 6:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The state public defender’s office in Missouri is seeking about $25 million in new funds over the next four years, citing the findings in a new report by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.

The study (PDF) found big gaps between the actual time the PDs spend on cases and estimates of the time needed to provide reasonably effective assistance of counsel. The New York Times reports on the Missouri study, saying it “has provided numbers to back up the claim that defenders here face Sisyphean workloads.”

The study findings: For murders, Missouri PDs should spend nearly 107 hours, but they actually spend an average of 84.5 hours on such cases. For serious felonies, they should spend nearly 48 hours but actually spend an average of about nine hours. For sex felonies, they should spend about 64 hours but actually spend nearly 26 hours. For misdemeanors, they should spend nearly 12 hours but actually spend about two hours.

The story notes that public defender agencies in Missouri and Miami have won state supreme court rulings allowing them to refuse cases they can’t adequately handle, but there are few instances of case refusal.

Meanwhile, caseloads have eased a bit in Miami and Missouri. Sources told the Times there may be several reasons why. In Florida, the state is sending fewer juvenile cases to court and the recession has reduced hiring of police officers, leading to fewer arrests. In Missouri, prosecutors are filing fewer cases for low-level drug crimes and probation violations.

Stephen Reynolds, chief of the St. Louis County Public Defender’s office, told the Times that the drop in Missouri case referrals hasn’t solved the problems. There are still “more than we can properly handle,” he said.

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