Last year’s rating of St. Louis as America’s “most dangerous city” prompted officials there to add more police to make arrests and more prosecutors to take charges to court. But every case requires a defense lawyer too, and no provision has been made to bolster the public defender system, which represents half or more of the accused, reports the Post-Dispatch. A legislative report supports concerns that the load of additional defendants might clog the courts unless the system grows to accommodate them.
That system is already in “crisis mode,” said the legislative committee report, from a study spurred by the Missouri Bar. “The probability that public defenders are failing to provide effective assistance of counsel and are violating their ethical obligations to their clients increases every day,” it said. The report said the state-funded office has not established a new position in six years, while the caseload for its 350 attorneys has grown by 12,000 in that time. In a typical recent year, the turnover is one lawyer in five.