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Missouri Supreme Court Says Public Defenders Can't Turn Down Cases


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.

Attorney Antwaun Smith represented the Public Defender Commission before the High Court:

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

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

Smith says that as a last resort, public defenders could be allowed to decline all new cases until the number of caseloads drops.

Marshall Griffin is the Statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
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