Missouri’s Public Defender Office Asks for Increase in Funding
Oct 23, 2015
St. Peters, MO, (Law Firm Newswire) October 23, 2015 – Michael Barrett, the director of the Missouri State Public Defender System, has written a letter to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon calling for a 25 percent increase in the state budget to adequately provide representation to poor clients.
In his letter dated Aug. 7, Barrett asked for an additional $10 million for the 2015 fiscal budget. The office currently has a budget of $38.4 million. He threatened to file a lawsuit if his request was denied, claiming Nixon’s office has worsened the treatment of the poor in the criminal justice system.
The letter said, “Missouri’s contempt for the rights of poor persons is . . . evident by its rank of 49 among 50 states in the amount of support provided for indigent defense.” The state spends around $6.40 per resident on defense services for the poor, which is nearly half the national average.
“Poor people who are accused of crimes are at a significant disadvantage. Representation by an experienced and capable attorney is the only way an individual can realistically protect themselves from injustice or persecution by the government,” said Charles James, a prominent attorney in St. Peters, Missouri, whose firm specializes in criminal defense.
A spokesperson for Nixon said the budget for the public defender’s office rose by $2.3 million in the past five years. Barrett contended that the $10 million in funding he asked for should be available as the state recently announced spending plans for a park, a new football stadium and improved fairgrounds. He also noted that Nixon has vetoed or withheld funding for public defenders in the past.
The letter added, “These luxuries, while appealing to some, cannot compare with the state’s obligation to ensure that every Missourian, regardless of means, enjoys equal protection under the law.” Barrett attributed the unfair treatment of indigent Missourians to the public defender office’s scarce resources, heavy caseloads and the low salaries of overworked public defenders. He claimed such factors are causing a high turnover in the office and therefore contributing to a rising prison population.
“The budget increase would provide some relief by allowing the addition of more public defenders who can help defend the interests of the indigent. If you are being treated unjustly by the government or have been falsely accused of a crime, you need representation by an attorney who has a deep knowledge of the legal system,” said James.
Learn more at http://www.jameslawgroup.net/.
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