Prosecutors, Public Defenders Work Together to Streamline Criminal Justice

Published 06/25 2014 07:22PM

Updated 06/25 2014 07:28PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Prosecutors and defense attorneys are juggling hundreds of cases, leaving victims and defendants waiting for justice or adjudication.

That is the current state of the criminal justice system.

Now, Gov. Nixon's announcement of budget restrictions and line item vetoes hit the public defender's office in the pocketbook.

To survive the current situation of limited funds, prosecutors and public defenders are looking at ways to work together.

That will mean taking a hard look at a system that is not always a well-oiled machine.

A law enforcement sales tax passed in the '90s meant getting more criminals off the streets but for the Greene County Prosecutors office that meant a bigger case load.

"From '98 to 2013 we only increased attorney staffing by 60 percent compared to a 200 percent increase in felony work load," says Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson.

And prosecutors are fighting to keep up.

"Under the status quo we continue to fall behind," says Patterson.

According to Patterson it is taking six to nine months to clear felony cases, more serious assaults and robberies will take a year or more.

The state public defender's office is not fairing much better.

"We were supposed to be allotted a one percent cost of living this year and that was withheld by the governor also," says Missouri State Public Defender Rod Hackathorn, who heads the Springfield office.  "Yeah, there's not been as much good news as far as budget goes."

As opposed to alleviating case load with the additional funds public defenders are right back where they started.

"At least as far as the public defenders office is concerned is really only on scenario right now and that's status quo. Especially given what happened with this latest budget," says Hackathorn.

So now these attorneys who sit at separate tables in the courtroom are proposing working on a strategy together to alleviate case overload with no additional money or people.

"But, we need to look and attack this problem and look at the numbers and what do the numbers tell us and how can we best put together our resources," says Patterson. "A limited number of public defenders, limited number of prosecutors and limited number of courts. What's the best combination of those three resources to move cases through the system?" 

In addition to the increased case load, additional judges have been added within the county.

That means the same number of attorneys under a heavy caseload are scrambling to get between additional courtrooms.

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