Missouri Public Defender System

Let's say you somehow got involved with a bad group of people and found yourself on the wrong side of the law. You end up getting charged with a crime and, as it happens, you make so little money that you actually qualify for a court-appointed attorney, a public defender.

As we reported recently, the public defender system in Missouri is underfunded and the attorneys say they are severely overworked. Just how overworked?

Paul Sableman via flicker

You hear it nearly every time you watch a crime show. As the bad guy is getting cuffed by the police, they tell him that he has the right to remain silent. And "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." And they tell him he has the right to an attorney. If he cannot afford to hire a lawyer, "one will be appointed to represent you..."

As with most things you see on TV, it's not actually that easy. In this episode of We Live Here, we explore the price and perils of our public defender system.

We Live Here: Untangling the public defender system

Apr 27, 2015
Steakpinball | Flickr

When we started We Live Here we promised to take you along on the reporting process with us. Recently, I’ve been looking into the public defender system in Missouri for one of our upcoming We Live Here podcasts.

Though I still have a lot more to learn, I've already noticed it's a system with a lot of nuance. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned so far about who does and doesn't qualify for a public defender and other details of how the system works:

Flickr/david-shane

The chair of Missouri's House Judiciary Committee is proposing reductions in the state's public defender system.

Republican State Representative Stanley Cox of Sedalia says public defenders would still handle the most serious cases for indigent defendants, but the more minor cases would be bid out to private attorneys.

Cox says this would address the caseload issues public defenders have long complained about.

Steakpinball | Flickr

The Missouri state auditor released a report Wednesday on the state’s Public Defender system.

Among the findings: public defenders need to better track the hours they spend on each case and update the standards they use to determine what’s the appropriate caseload.

Auditor Tom Schweich says Public Defenders have relied on national standards that are out-of-date.