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Mo. prosecutors object to "constitutional crisis"

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson City, Mo. – Prosecuting attorneys in Missouri are taking issue with the use of the phrase "constitutional crisis" to describe the problems facing public defenders across the Show-Me State.

Missouri's public defenders say they're in crisis because they're assigned too many cases and don't have the option of turning any of them down.

But Dwight Scroggins, President of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, says a study on public defenders' caseloads is flawed.

"The original Spangenberg Report talked in terms of the public defender handling 70 to 80 percent of all felony cases in the state of Missouri...when that was examined, (the actual number) was found to be less than 40 percent," Scroggins said.

Scroggins wants a review of the state's entire criminal justice system. He adds that responding to one area of concern while ignoring others would lead to a worse system than the current one.

Meanwhile, at a meeting in Jefferson City Friday, the former president of the Missouri Bar told the group's Board of Governors of the problems plaguing public defenders across the state.

Doug Copeland says in addition to being overwhelmed with caseloads, public defenders are sorely lacking in resources.

"We've got the lowest per capita spending amongst all the public defender systems in the country...that's an indication that we're not giving them enough resources...what are we, the Meth capital of the world? We've got lots of crime in Missouri, so it's not like we're a crime-free state," Copeland said in an interview after his address.

Jennifer Joyce, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis, also spoke to the Missouri Bar's Board of Governors.

She acknowledges that the public defender system has problems that need addressing. But she says any legislative solution should address Missouri's entire criminal justice system.