Pleading the Sixth: The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA) have placed opinion pieces in several leading newspapers admitting that the indigent defense system is broken but blaming the crisis on a lack of public defender leadership. The Sixth Amendment Center again takes issue with MAPA’s interpretation of the facts countering with our own opinion piece.
On October 30, 2012, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an opinion piece by Eric Zahnd, President of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA), which states that even though “Missouri’s current public defender system is broken,” the problems are not due to case overload. Rather, any perceived issues are due principally to the fact that the public defender system’s “top brass has surrendered in the face of its challenges.” As proof, MAPA offers that all components of the criminal justice system need to deal with tough economic times but that “prosecutors routinely handle two to three times more cases than public defenders, all without turning away cases and threatening to close their offices.”
The Sixth Amendment Center countered with our own opinion piece published by the Post-Dispatch on November 7, 2012. In 1963, the United States Supreme Court determined that, because governments “quite properly spend vast sums of money to establish machinery to try defendants,” a poor person charged with crime cannot get a fair trial unless a lawyer is provided at state expense. For MAPA to suggest that Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD) is not in a crisis because prosecutors can handle more cases conveniently neglects the fact that the workload of public defenders and prosecutors are simply not comparable. Public defenders must investigate every case while prosecutors have the “machinery” of the various state and local police departments, state crime labs, federal bureau of investigations, etc., at their disposal.