You wouldn't think a shortage of public defenders could precipitate a possible criminal crisis in a major American city. But the way our legal system is structured, that may very well be playing out in Portland:
In a sign of mounting frustration, Multnomah County's top prosecutor Monday released a list of the cases of nearly 300 people who have had charges dismissed against them this year because no public defenders were available to represent them.
People accused of car theft, fleeing police and illegally carrying guns were most likely to walk free, according to the list. But dropped cases also include accusations of lower level assaults, domestic violence, burglary, identity theft, intoxicated driving and hit-and-run driving.
District Attorney Mike Schmidt said in a statement that he wants the public to understand the severity of the public defense crisis and that without a long-term solution the emergency will continue to pose an "urgent threat" to the community's safety.
Every Portland resident right now:
The prosecutor is hoping that bringing attention to this madness will help bring an end to it:
Schmidt's move to publicize all cases that judges have dismissed -- believed to be a first in Oregon -- raises public awareness but also clearly is a gambit to put public pressure on the state to find a remedy.
"This sends a message to crime victims in our community that justice is unavailable, and their harm will go unaddressed," Schmidt said. "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."