Missouri is failing its citizens, failing justice, and failing the constitution.
It is a criminal injustice in our state.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Missouri, the MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe filed a class-action lawsuit against the Missouri State Public Defender to balance the scales of justice and uphold the constitution.
If you’re accused of a crime, you have the right to an attorney, even if you can’t afford one. But in Missouri, tens of thousands of people are pushed through the justice system each year without receiving the adequate legal representation that is their right.
For decades, the Missouri State Public Defender has been underfunded, understaffed, and overworked. Too few attorneys are handling too many cases, fueling a system that consistently fails to give each case the minimum recommended hours for ethical representation, as defined by the American Bar Association. The result is constant injustice.
In 2015, only three percent of cases met the minimum required hours of attorney time.
By failing to fix its chronically defective public defense system, Missouri is robbing people of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel. As a result, Missourians accused of crimes often languish in jail for months or plead guilty, despite having a winnable case, just to get out of jail and avoid losing their jobs, their homes, and more time with their families. Many never even meet with an attorney before their day in court.
This lawsuit calls for a systemic change that has, to date, gone unheeded. It is beyond time for Missouri to uphold its constitutional duty to all its citizens.