WA Guidelines Limit Defender Caseloads, Prompt Money Crunch


Officials in cities across Washington state say that as they’re trying to find ways to cut budgets, new state Supreme Court guidelines will force them to cough up more money for people who are accused of crimes but can’t afford their own attorneys, reports the Associated Press. By a 7-2 vote, justices adopted new case limits for public defenders.

Beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney. The caseloads have been especially high in city courts that handle misdemeanors, with public defenders sometimes taking on 1,000 or more cases annually. Now, officials preparing next year’s budgets have two options: Provide more money to law firms that represent poor defendants or charge fewer people with crimes.

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