The latest independent study of Missouri’s public defender system reaffirmed its overloaded status and declared Missouri’s indigent defense options are “headed for disaster.”
The report, released Friday morning, also highlighted a “backdoor method of case disposal,” where defenders decide a poor person isn’t eligible for indigent defense if they scrape together $500 for a bond.
Indigent defendants might be better off staying in jail, where they have a better chance of getting a public defender, the report concluded.
This choice between counsel or custody is the “quiet constitutional crisis” boiling at the center of the public defender problem in Missouri, concluded the report, conducted by the Spangenberg Group, now a program at George Mason University that studies indigent defense in all 50 states.
The same group conducted studies of the Missouri State Public Defender System in 1993 and 2005. Both previous studies predicted impending disaster for an indigent defense system wracked by unmanageable caseloads, low salaries and even lower morale.
“The caseload crisis … has placed MSPD’s attorneys in the cruelest of positions, one in which they are virtually guaranteed to fail, despite efforts that could fairly be described as heroic,” the authors wrote in the report.
The study called for a 50 percent increase in the number of investigators and support staff for public defenders.
Read more on this story in Monday’s papers.