Public defenders are being hit so hard by budget cuts and growing caseloads that offices in several states are refusing to take on more cases because they say defendants’ rights are being hurt, reports USA Today. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that poor people charged with a crime have a right to a lawyer. In most states, taxpayers fund public defenders who handle such cases. The American Bar Association cites studies saying a public defender can competently handle 150 to 200 cases a year. The growing caseloads could force states to spend more money on public defenders, delay trials, or lead to overturned convictions because of inadequate counsel.
“Many public defenders are feeling the squeeze at this point,” says Maureen Dimino of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She has heard from public defenders in more than a half-dozen states who are considering challenging their growing caseloads in court. Miami-Dade County Public Defender Bennett Brummer sued Florida in June after the Legislature cut his budget 9 percent. Kentucky’s former public advocate Ernie Lewis has asked a judge to declare his office underfunded so it can refuse misdemeanor cases. The Missouri public defender’s office last month notified courts in two jurisdictions that public defenders will reject new cases there.