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ABA report on Missouri public defender caseloads provides blueprint for national reform


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ABA report on Missouri public defender caseloads provides blueprint for national reform

By John Glynn

CHICAGO, July 31, 2014 — The American Bar Association today announced the release of a report that provides a new empirical method for public defender systems to document how excessive caseloads deny indigent criminal defendants the constitutional right to effective counsel.


Focusing on the Missouri public defender system, the report shows that public defenders across the state have insufficient time to devote to all aspects of their cases – from client communication to discovery, investigation and case preparation. For example, for the most serious felonies (excluding homicide), the 375 lawyers in the Missouri State Public Defender System who were surveyed reported spending an average of close to nine hours on their cases, compared to the 47 hours deemed necessary.

The report, known as the "Missouri Project: A Study of the Missouri Public Defender System and Attorney Workload Standards," features a blueprint for other jurisdictions to conduct public defender workload studies using the Delphi method, a multifaceted business forecasting tool introduced by the Rand Corp. in 1962. The report was prepared on behalf of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants by the accounting firm RubinBrown.

“The right to counsel in criminal cases is a bedrock principle of the U.S. Constitution," said ABA President James R. Silkenat. "The Missouri Project is groundbreaking because it provides clear, empirical evidence about the crisis in public defense systems that has been building for many years. Missouri is not alone in this crisis. All across the country, Americans are being denied their constitutional right to adequate counsel. The blueprint that accompanies the Missouri Project report will help jurisdictions develop sound evidence of the crushing workloads that keep public defenders from duly representing clients.”


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