Multnomah DA: Lack of public defenders 'threat to safety'
The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office is calling a lack of public defenders to provide counsel an "urgent threat to public safety."
Individuals suspected of a crime have the constitutional right to defense counsel. But absent that representation, criminal prosecutions are unable to lawfully move forward and are often dismissed over prosecutor's objections.
"Every week case hearings have been set over in the hopes that a public defender may be available at a future date (or) dismissed outright," said DA Mike Schmidt in a statement. "The courts are put in the position of releasing defendants without prosecutors having so much as an opportunity to request bail or release conditions."
This was the case for a suspect who allegedly crashed a car into a Reynolds School District bus full of Wilkes Elementary schoolers while fleeing Gresham officers. The bus had to be evacuated due to a leak caused by the incident, and while no kids were injured, many were "shaken" by the crash, the district said.
Less than 24 hours after his arrest, 56-year-old Michael Crawford was released due to a lack of defense counsel.
"For nearly every defendant without counsel, there are one or more victim's awaiting justice," Schmidt said. "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."
To date a total of 285 cases, including misdemeanors and felonies, including property crime, crimes involving a firearm, low-level assaults, and domestic violence, have been dismissed due to a lack of defense counsel. The DA's Office will begin publishing every case dismissed or pushed back. Learn more about the dismissed cases online (bit.ly/3Ouxt3p).
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