TARGET 8: Hundreds wait in jail as public defenders struggle with caseloads

2 months 1 week 3 days ago Wednesday, December 13 2017 Dec 13, 2017 Wednesday, December 13, 2017 5:06:00 PM CST December 13, 2017 in Target 8
By: Sarah Trott, KOMU 8 Reporter
loading

JEFFERSON CITY - Many people accused of crimes are languishing in county jails as the Missouri State Public Defender System struggles to get through cases.

Missouri has 376 public defenders who take on more than 85,000 cases a year. They represent suspects who cannot afford a private attorney or to pay bond.

Justin Carver serves Cole, Miller and Moniteau counties. He’s been in the public defender's office for 15 years and said the system “has always been bad, it’s just degrees of bad.”

Carver has filed nearly 200 motions this year to decline or withdraw from the influx of cases to his staff of attorneys, but circuit judges have been denying his requests.

Missouri ranks 49th in funding for state public defenders, according to the ACLU. The system receives less than half of one percent of appropriations compared to all other state departments.

Despite working overtime and on the weekends, Carver said, “I literally need twice the number of lawyers I’ve got. I mean, I can’t make twice the number of hours in the day."

Just this year, his office had nearly 200 applicants for public defender services. At one time, Carver had 268 open cases assigned to him at once.

To ease the burden, private attorneys are required at times to take on public cases without compensation. Jefferson City lawyer Scott Evans is one of many lawyers in the area asked to take on cases for free. He said this system isn't a long-term fix.

"I don't see appointing private counsel as the solution because it's just shifting the liability from the public defender's office to the private bar," he said.

While Carver balances his time sifting through casework, responding to clients and preparing legal work, many of his clients remain in county jail.

“There are people stuck in jail right now without a lawyer. If I were their father, brother, mother, I would be furious because it’s horribly unfair. The state is supposed to provide a lawyer to these people and the state is completely falling down on its responsibility,” he said.

The ACLU is currently suing the Missouri State Public Defender System. Its lead plaintiff, who it claims had a "winnable case," spent 42 days in jail before meeting with his public defender. 

The American Bar Association requires “lawyers provide competent representation” and “control workload so each matter can be handled competently.” However, Carver’s requests to decline or withdraw from cases has added to the backlog of casework.

Both public and private attorneys are at risk of disciplinary action or having their bar license revoked for not providing enough attention to each case.

“The legal standard for competence means, not just the knowledge and skill, but also includes the preparation and right now, I don’t have any time to prepare my cases,” he said.

Carver also cited retention issues with employees who burn out in the public defender system.

Carver said the enormous backlog of work raises ethical questions because clients are not getting a fair and speedy trial.

"The speedy trial right exists on paper, it's not being enforced by the courts," he said.

A report from Rubin Brown, an independent consultant, shows public defenders in Missouri aren't giving enough time to ethically represent clients. In their 2014 study called The Missouri Project, it found defenders were spending less than half the time required on some cases.

Based on statistical averages, sex felony cases should take 63 hours of time to complete, but public defenders were dedicating only 25 hours of their time, the report found.

Another independent consultant, The Spangenberg Group, concluded "for close to a decade the MSPD has received no substantial increase in appropriations" and "each day in Missouri, the state places the lives of poor citizens into the hands of attorneys who are underpaid, overworked, and badly supervised."

This fall, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled public defenders hoping to ease their caseloads must get the permission of circuit judges in order to lessen the amount of assignments.

In 2013, legislation voided the Public Defender Commission's excessive caseload rule. The new procedure requires judicial approval for public defenders to turn away an excess of cases.

More News

Grid
List
SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A Springfield man has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenager with a mental disability... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 12:49:46 PM CST February 21, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — A Missouri bill would confiscate licenses from teenagers accused of unlawful driving. The Springfield... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 12:46:17 PM CST February 21, 2018 in News
TIPTON - What started off as a one-day service project has turned into a month-long fundraiser. Members of the... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 12:28:00 PM CST February 21, 2018 in News
TUSCUMBIA - The Miller County Prosecutor's Office charged a man with murder on Wednesday in connection with a September 2017... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 12:09:48 PM CST February 21, 2018 in News
JOPLIN (AP) — University libraries across Missouri are spending more of their budgets on online resources and subscriptions, as... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 11:26:29 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
FORSYTH (AP) — Forest Service officials say wildfires in Taney County last week are being investigated as possible arson.... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 11:15:00 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — An Illinois megadonor is contributing $500,000 to the effort to make Missouri a right-to-work... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 10:59:41 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Officers arrested a man on Tuesday following an investigation into alleged domestic assault. The 74-year-old female... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 10:53:00 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
TRENTON (AP) — Authorities say a man has been arrested in the theft of an ambulance from a northwest... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:37:11 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
MARCELINE (AP) — Authorities say a train has struck and killed a third-grader in northern Missouri. The... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:28:00 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - The Columbia Solid Waste Utility and Downtown Community Improvement District will meet Wednesday night to discuss the... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 7:50:00 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA- It’s no secret anything related to a Disney character can dazzle a child. Lauren Kight, a senior at... More >>
1 day ago Wednesday, February 21 2018 Feb 21, 2018 Wednesday, February 21, 2018 6:00:00 AM CST February 21, 2018 in News
Jefferson City - In mid-Missouri, there are few opportunities to take to the ice like your favorite Olympic figure skater,... More >>
2 days ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 Tuesday, February 20, 2018 8:30:00 PM CST February 20, 2018 in News
SEDALIA - Icy weather hit Sedalia and other western counties on Tuesday. The conditions are expected to continue through... More >>
2 days ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 Tuesday, February 20, 2018 8:03:00 PM CST February 20, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - The 2018 Economic Outlook Conference kicked off at Columbia College with a laugh and speakers discussing how... More >>
2 days ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 Tuesday, February 20, 2018 7:06:00 PM CST February 20, 2018 in Top Stories
JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill outlawing so-called "revenge porn." ... More >>
2 days ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 Tuesday, February 20, 2018 6:34:00 PM CST February 20, 2018 in Top Stories
KOMU-8 viewers shared their favorite pictures of their pets for National Love Your Pet Day Tuesday. Show your pets... More >>
2 days ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 Tuesday, February 20, 2018 5:04:00 PM CST February 20, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - A University of Missouri team of researchers created a massive new area of research. A multi-disciplinary... More >>
2 days ago Tuesday, February 20 2018 Feb 20, 2018 Tuesday, February 20, 2018 5:00:00 PM CST February 20, 2018 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 42°
3am 39°
4am 40°
5am 40°
6am 40°

Select a station to view its upcoming schedule:

Coming Up Next

1:00a
2018 Olympic Winter Games
3:30a
Inside Edition
4:00a
Paid Program
2:00a
Dr. Phil
3:00a
The Dr. Oz Show
4:00a
Paid Program

Tonight's Schedule

7:00p
2018 Olympic Winter Games
7:00p
The 3rd Annual Howie Mandel Stand-Up Gala
8:30p
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
9:00p
KOMU 8 News @ Nine on The CW
9:30p
Seinfeld