Public defenders in Minnesota say they are stretched too thin, and they have asked the State Judicial Council to help reduce their caseloads by moving nonviolent crimes, such as petty theft and misdemeanor trespassing, out of the courtroom, reports the Associated Press. The Minnesota Board of Public Defense said it faces caseloads that are nearly double the level recommended by the American Bar Association. In August, the board proposed that certain nonviolent offenses – like loitering or livestock rustling – should be placed on the list of crimes that require fines instead of mandatory court appearances.
“If an offense creates a low level of risk to the public and could be properly sanctioned by mailing in a check, the offender should be allowed to hand a check to the clerk in the courtroom, saving court and public defender time,” according to the board’s August request to the State Judicial Council. The state’s public defense budget has seen back-to-back budget cuts, and statewide, public defenders’ offices have lost about 15 percent of their staff over the last three years through a combination of layoffs, leaves and attrition. John Stuart, Minnesota’s state public defender, said public defense attorneys are stretched to the point of breaking and it’s time to prioritize. “We don’t have enough staff to handle cases like stealing a candy bar, theft of a pickle slice from a salad bar, barking dogs  all of which we’ve had this summer,” he said.