In Oregon, charges against hundreds of alleged criminals, including those accused of violent crimes, have been dropped due to a shortage of public defenders.
Oregon currently has just 31% of the public defenders it requires. As a result, nearly 800 individuals are waiting to be assigned public defenders for their cases, according to Oregon Judicial Department reporting. Of those individuals, 76 are currently waiting in jail, with some cases taking weeks or even months.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton told Fox News Digital that the state's response to the public defender crisis is dangerous and "an example of an essential aspect of the public safety system failing."
"That is a terrible result for public safety and for victims," Barton said. "Victims have a right to be safe and to have their case prosecuted. They have a right to have their day in court, just like a defendant has a right to have their day in court."
Barton believes the shortage of public defenders is due to the county's mismanagement and inadequate compensation. According to the Oregonian, Portland's public defenders usually make between $73,000 and $122,000 annually, while prosecutors earn between $86,000 and $215,000 annually. Additionally, public defenders in Oregon work on contract instead of as county or state employees.
An Office of Public Defense Services spokesperson told Fox News Digital that Oregon has temporarily increased rates and offered retention incentives for public defenders to help curb the crisis.
Barton stated that his office fast-tracked approximately 100 stagnant cases by bringing lawyers in to meet with defendants as advice counsel in hopes of working out plea deals.
"We have not had a single case dismissed because of a lack of attorneys," Barton said. "And we have not had a single case where we have stopped from filing charges because of a lack of attorneys."
More than 300 cases in Multnomah County, however, which includes Portland, have been dismissed by District Attorney Mike Schmidt because of the public defender shortage. Schmidt called the crisis an "urgent threat to public safety."
According to the district attorney's office, last week, the county dismissed cases involving alleged felony theft and burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle, gun charges, reckless driving, and fleeing from law enforcement, Fox News Digital reported. Other dropped cases included alleged violent crimes, which have understandably frustrated victims.
Oregon resident Chris Day told KOIN-TV that in February, he was driving a bus when a passenger assaulted him with mace. Because of the shortage of public defenders, the attacker's case was dismissed.
"I'm upset. We're alone out there on the bus," Day stated. "It's very few that get caught and now the ones who are caught are not getting prosecuted and not getting the help they need."
In response to the dismissed case, DA Schmidt told the outlet that he plans to have his office reissue previously dropped cases as soon as resources become available.
"For someone to be attacked while they are at work is absolutely unacceptable and demands accountability," Schmidt said. "Working people deserve nothing short of feeling safe every single day. 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."
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