Public Defenders

Overworked PDs in Seven States Act to Limit Cases

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Public defenders in at least seven states claim they are so overworked that they must limit new cases.

The PD offices have either refused to take new cases or sued to limit the numbers, citing increasing caseloads and tightened budgets, the New York Times reports. The newspaper calls the action “the most open revolt by public defenders in memory.”

The revolts are occurring in Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Minnesota, Maryland and Arizona, the newspaper says. In Florida, the state supreme court on Friday asked an appeals court to rule on a suit by Miami-Dade public defenders. A trial court ruling in the case permits the PDs to refuse to represent many defendants arrested on lesser felony charges.

The average number of annual felony cases handled by each lawyer in the Miami-Dade office is close to 500, compared to 367 three years ago, according to the story. The average misdemeanor caseload per lawyer is 2,225, up from 1,380.

In Maryland, the Office of Public Defender said in September that it would no longer pay private lawyers to represent defendants in conflict-of-interest cases.

Indiana University law professor Norman Lefstein told the Times he believes the quality of public defense “is absolutely deteriorating.” He says defendants may feel pressured to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted as budget cuts create too much work for defense lawyers.

“In my opinion, there should be hundreds of such motions or lawsuits,” he said.

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