Two years ago, a pair of public interest law firms filed suit against the state of Missouri, saying it had failed to provide “meaningful” legal representation for indigent defendants, as the U.S. Constitution requires. Because the public defenders’ office is overworked and underfunded, the ACLU and the MacArthur Justice Center argued, poor people charged with a crime are denied their constitutional rights.
The case has seen a number of twists and turns — and a great deal of drama in recent weeks. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, we spoke with Amy Breihan, director of the MacArthur Justice Center, and Nicholas Phillips, a reporter at Missouri Lawyers Weekly, about these developments.
For decades, Missouri has ranked near the bottom of public defender funding. The state is 49th of the 50 states in per capita indigent defense spending, Breihan said.