More Coloradoans requiring public defense attorneys

BY Jon Mosher on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 3:22 PM

The Denver Post reports that, even as the number of criminal prosecutions across the state has decreased, the Colorado State Public Defender is facing a record-high number of clients to defend.  This paradox, likely common throughout the nation, has a simple explanation.  The downturn in the economy has caused many people to lose their jobs, which in turn means that more people are falling into poverty.  When these people are cited or arrested for alleged violations of the law, increasingly larger percentages of them qualify for public representation.  So, even as fewer people overall are being prosecuted, more and more of them are financially incapable of hiring a private attorney.

Since the start of the economic downturn in 2008, prosecutors have filed about 20 percent fewer felony and misdemeanor cases as the number of crimes committed decreased, but public defenders are being called upon to represent a larger percentage of those defendants.

Fortunately, the Colorado Office of the State Public Defender has sufficient case tracking to enable them to produce hard evidence about the number of clients represented, the types of cases, and the time that public defenders must spend in each type of case.  In order to maintain a sufficiently high level of quality and also meet the demands of their increased workload, the State Public Defender is requesting the legislature fund an additional 34 attorney positions.

If money can't be found to meet the demands of the current workload, the state of Colorado has an alternative, less costly option.  It could instead follow South Carolina’s example and remove cases from the system.

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