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In October we discussed a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that the state's public defenders may refuse new cases if their caseloads are overwhelming. The ruling came among concerns that high caseloads and limited state resources were making it impossible for public defenders to adequately represent their low-income clients.

Now the system is easing caseload limits to allow public defenders to take on more cases even if they already have a full load. This gives attorneys some more freedom to take more cases but some worry that it will stretch them too thin and have negative implications for defendants who rely on the system.

The state's defenders have been under caps that limit their ability to take new clients. Those caps are designed to limit how much time they spend on certain types of cases. Public defenders represent anyone who faces jail time for a criminal offense, even seemingly minor ones.

The director of the state's public defender system has drawn a distinction between being assigned to a case and actually defending it. The right to counsel stipulates "that people have a right to lawyers who actually have the time to be lawyers, and not just a body standing in a courtroom," she said.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires the assistance of counsel be provided to the accused in all criminal proceedings. The right to a lawyer typically spans the criminal justice process, from arrest to the first appeal after a conviction.

If you are facing criminal charges or accusations it is essential to consult a defense attorney as soon as possible. They can help you build a defense while navigating the court system and seeking the best possible result in your case.

Source: The Associated Press, "Missouri public defenders easing caseload limits," David A. Lieb, Dec. 4, 2012

To learn more about criminal rights in Missouri, please visit our website.

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