PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Violent crime has never been higher in the Rose City, and with a serious shortage of public defenders, some cases are not being prosecuted, even felonies and domestic violence.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said he wants to ring the alarm on this crisis before it gets worse, claiming so far this year the courts have dropped around 300 cases in total because there isn’t a public defender to represent the client.
“In a system where resources are already stretched thin, it’s causing us to have to do double work than we would have had to do in the first place,” Schmidt said. “There have been labor shortages … they need to entice people in the industry with a compensation rate where they can pay off law school.”
With the amount of violent crime circulating throughout Portland, it feels as though every pillar of public safety is crumbling, and Schmidt didn’t sugarcoat the situation.
“Every part of our system from the 911 call and staffing at BOEC, to the jails and Sheriff’s Office, to police officers, prosecutors, and now defense attorneys, every part of the system is seeing labor shortage,” he said. “We’re absolutely feeling that and it’s coming at a time when we’re still feeling the hangover from the pandemic issues that caused court slowdown.”
In addition to those domestic violence cases, Schmidt said some of them include a felon in possession of a firearm.
“We talk to victims every single day and make those phone calls and say hey I’m sorry to tell you the court dismissed your case … it’s super hard,” Schmidt said. “When this happens, we are failing our victims. I want victims to have justice.”
Schmidt says he’s objecting to those dismissals. He thinks the solution lies in enticing people to be public defenders, which includes better pay. KOIN 6 News reached out to the agency in charge of public defenders for the state and hasn’t heard back yet, but local public defenders have said recently they also agree better pay could be a big part of the solution and agree the pandemic exacerbated a problem that already existed.
The Portland Police Association released a statement regarding the situation as well.
“The entirety of our criminal justice infrastructure depends on each component being properly staffed and fully functioning,” said PPA President Sergeant Aaron Schmautz. “It is absolutely critical to public trust and accountability that when the police and district attorney bring cases, that the court system is equipped to process those cases, most notably with sufficient public defenders to ensure due process is had. The lack of public defenders is exacerbating the fractures in our criminal justice system and must be addressed immediately.”