MultCo DA: Defense attorney shortage is 'urgent threat'
Multnomah County is reluctantly letting suspects go free in a crisis District Attorney Mike Schmidt is calling an "urgent threat to public safety."
Nearly 300 cases, including misdemeanors and felonies, have been dismissed by the courts due to a lack of defense attorneys.
Schmidt said he has objected to these releases because of victim's rights, but case hearings are being rescheduled multiple times, even sometimes past the statute of limitations.
"This sends a message to crime victims in our community that justice is unavailable, and their harm will go unaddressed. It also sends a message to individuals who have committed a crime that there is no accountability while burning through scarce police and prosecutor resources. Every day that this crisis persists presents an urgent and continuing threat to public safety," Schmidt said in a statement released on Monday, Nov. 21.
The DA said his office is going to publish every single suspect released due to a lack of defenders available until there are more attorneys.
Schmidt's full statement can be read below:
"In February of this year, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge dismissed the first of what is now nearing 300 cases due to a lack of defense counsel over my objection on the basis of victims' rights. Every week since, case hearings have been set over in the hopes that a public defender may be available at a future date, dismissed outright, or dismissed after being set over, sometimes even past the statute of limitations for a given offense. The courts are put in the position of releasing defendants without prosecutors having so much as an opportunity to request bail or release conditions. And it's not getting any better. Just last week, a suspect that allegedly ran a car into a school bus of children, which subsequently had to be evacuated due to a leak caused by the incident, was released within 24 hours of his arrest due to lack of a defense counsel.
"For nearly every defendant without counsel, there are one or more (victims) awaiting justice. Months into this crisis, many are still waiting for their day in court while others have seen their cases dismissed altogether. This sends a message to crime victims in our community that justice is unavailable, and their harm will go unaddressed. It also sends a message to individuals who have committed a crime that there is no accountability while burning through scarce police and prosecutor resources. Every day that this crisis persists presents an urgent and continuing threat to public safety."
"Prosecutors in my office have and will continue to issue cases for prosecution and reissue cases that have been dismissed as soon as we are able. We refuse to turn our backs on victims simply because one pillar of our justice system is crumbling. Moreover, from this day forward, my office will publish every case dismissed or set over as a result of this crisis weekly until it is resolved. The public must be empowered with this information to understand the scope of this crisis."
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