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Mo. Supreme Court rules on public defender cases

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The Missouri Supreme Court

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson City, Mo. – The Missouri Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that public defenders cannot use heavy caseloads as an excuse to turn down entire categories of cases.

The decision strikes down rules that allowed overworked offices to turn away cases that involved probation violations and turn away defendants who had once hired private lawyers.

Kansas City attorney Antwaun Smith represented the Public Defender Commission before the High Court.

"In a sense we lost, but the language in the opinion that the Court provides really provides and supports a fuller view of the public defender's authority to manage its case loads," Smith said.

The Missouri Supreme Court's ruling allows public defenders, prosecutors and judges to work together to find ways to manage large caseloads.

"And...possibly as a last resort, if that process doesn't work out, then the public defender (office) has the option of making itself completely unavailable to take on new cases until its caseload goes down in a specific part of the state," Smith said.

But Smith also says the High Court is limited in what it can do to address limited resources, adding that the legislature is responsible for that.

St. Louis Public Radio also contacted the office of Stephanie Morrell, the prosecuting attorney that argued the opposite side of the case, but she did not return our calls.

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