ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The St. Louis Public Defender is calling for more state funding to hire more lawyers for defendants who can’t afford their own attorney.
Mary Fox says her office handles about 100 jury trials a year with a team of 20 public defenders.
“The interesting fact though is the majority of those lawyers are within their first two years out of law school, so these are not experienced attorneys, these are people who are learning how to try cases and as result we usually have to put two attorneys in each case. So are we overstretched? Absolutely,” she says.
Fox says in some cases her attorneys have no investigator, so they not only have to put on the trial, but go to the scene and gather the facts to make a case.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state, saying many defendants are not getting their Constitutionally guaranteed right to adequate legal counsel.
“We are stretched thin, we make mistakes, we don’t have time to do a complete investigation and we don’t have enough resources to put two attorneys in every trial, which is what it should be,” Fox says.
A non-profit group, the Missouri Coalition for the Right to Counsel, is proposing a new system where younger attorneys in the private sector would serve as public defenders in St. Louis city and county.