MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR- Oregon’s slide into the abyss continues, with The Oregonian reporting last week that Multnomah County, the most populous such county in Oregon, has been forced to dismiss the cases of nearly 300 criminals. Why you may ask? Because there were no public defenders available to represent them.
— l carter (@l_bogueflower) November 24, 2022
Most of those who will escape charges are “low-level” criminals—accused of crimes such as car theft, engaging police in pursuit and illegally carrying a gun (if that can be considered a “low-level” crime).
However some of the cases involved more serious crimes, such as lower level assaults, domestic violence, DUI, hit and run accidents, and identity theft. The dismissal has Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt apoplectic.
In a statement, Schmidt sought to express to the public the severity of the crisis where public defenders are in short supply, while noting that without a longer-term solution to the issue, it will begin to pose an “urgent threat” to public safety.
While Schmidt’s move to publicize the number and type of cases being dismissed is intended primarily to shed light on the situation, believed to be the first such time this has occurred in Oregon, but to also put public pressure on the state to craft a solution.
“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.”
Schmidt also said his office will post cases of those defendants whose cases are dismissed on his office’s website each week until the state develops a solution to fix the problem.
Ironically, the slogan of Portland the most populous city in Multnomah County is ‘the City that Works.” Clearly, the criminal justice system in Portland and by extension Multnomah County is hardly working.
Last week, Schmidt announced that 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,” The Blaze reported.
Ironically, it was Schmidt who refused to prosecute violent crime during the Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots in 2020 and vowed to “make the criminal justice system more equitable.” That was one of the first actions he took as the newly elected Multnomah County District Attorney.
As concerns the current situation in the district, a spokesperson for Schmidt, Elisabeth Shepard, said there is little he can do other than drawing light to the situation.
“He wants people to understand how big a deal this is,” she said.
Once public defenders become available, Schmidt’s office is hoping to restart prosecution against dismissed criminal defendants, however when or if that will take place is unknown.
Meanwhile, those who are subject to criminal charges claim they are “languishing in limbo” and have no chance to defend themselves, concerned the court system may end up reactivating their cases down the road when public defenders become available.
They may be able to ride out the delay however, since the statute of limitations on misdemeanors is two years, while felonies carry a three-year statute of limitations typically.
On a statewide basis as of last week, over 750 individuals had been charged with a host of crimes, however, have yet to be assigned public defenders, despite financially qualifying for one. In addition, there are no public defenders available for an additional 600 defendants who failed to show in court to face their charges and now are subject to rearrest warrants.
The current situation has been fed by a bevy of circumstances, including low, uncompetitive pay, high turnover, turmoil in the state’s Office of Public Defense Services and also new rules and regulations which limit the caseloads of overworked public defenders.
Public defenders agree that shedding light on the situation to make the public aware of what is going on is critical, however note that it will likely take an overhaul of the entire system in order to solve the problem.
Meanwhile, criminals walk and those who may be improperly or unjustly accused and who cannot afford an attorney are left to dangle in the wind.
Once again, a liberal state is failing it’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
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