Correction: The blog post should have said at least ten public defender offices across the state have given notice that they may start turning down cases.
At least ten public defender offices across the state have given notice that they may start turning down cases.
The St. Louis County Public Defenders’ Office is the latest to inform circuit judges and prosecutors that it has exceeded its maximum allowable caseload during the past three months.
Under a December Missouri Supreme Court ruling, the Missouri Public Defender System cannot refuse to represent certain types of cases; however, the office can refuse to take any cases when it has reached the maximum amount it can handle.
Other offices that have begun talks with judges and prosecutors regarding their caseloads include those in Springfield, Carthage, Columbia, Liberty, Lebanon, Maryville, the city of Jackson and Kirksville.
“Under the opinion, only the courts and prosecuting attorneys can triage the cases that we can handle,” said Cat Kelly, a deputy director of the Missouri Public Defender System. “They can take some of the cases off our plate, so we won’t have to close our doors. We’re meeting with them across the state to try and come up with some different solutions.”
Ideas to alleviate caseloads include having prosecutors dispose of cases without jail time, so defendants won’t need an attorney and increase their use of diversion programs and appointing attorneys to represent indigent defendants.