Charges in three separate murders were dropped in St. Louis last week – because prosecutors failed to appear in court or, after months of delays, were unwilling to proceed.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has pinned the layoffs to the high turnover in the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. The office has seen more than 100% turnover under Gardner and as a result, writes Joel Currier, in the years leading up to Gardner’s election it has grown from an average of 10-15% of crime cases to more than 30% in the past 3 years. Last year, 36% of all crimes were dismissed, Currier reported.
Assuming / Aaron Banks
St. Louis District Defender Matthew Mahaffey
Matthew Mahaffey, district attorney for the St. Louis office of the Missouri State Public Defender, discussed with St. Louis on the Air on Thursday how these layoffs are affecting his office’s clients and attorneys.
While Gardner’s office has assured the public that they have re-indicted all three cases, it means delays for both crime victims and defendants seeking their day in court.
“The process starts over,” he said. “And that’s a worrying reality for anyone involved in this case, whether they’re with the prosecutor or with us. For our customers, this often means that they remain constrained and have to return to a hoped-for opportunity to approach the case the way they decided to approach it. “
Mahaffey said three consecutive missed appearances in court, as described in one case in the Post-Dispatch, were unusual. But the district attorney’s office, which uses a combination of dismissal and rescheduling to buy time, isn’t.
Apart from the fact that the defendants have to wait months to deal with the charges against them, these measures also force opposing lawyers to make difficult deadline decisions.
“Our people try to prioritize where they can use their time and talent in relation to their case load,” he said. “They are preparing and handling cases that they believe are on trial, and when they are not then they have obviously had to put aside things that need attention now and that they might have attention at that time can give. “.”
If prosecutors are unwilling to bring a case, they shouldn’t be filing a case.
Mahaffey had previously blamed the District Attorney’s policies and practices for coercing defendants into unreasonably long prison terms in St. Louis. He told St. Louis on the Air in March that the average length of stay at the City Justice Center had grown to 344 days. A task force investigating prison conditions after several prisoner riots last winter cited long stays as a factor.
Although Mahaffey publicly called for a change in the way prosecutors use the grand jury process and what he sees as unnecessary delays in getting a court hearing, he said the district attorney has not changed his practices. New rules from the Missouri Supreme Court also made no difference in St. Louis, he said. The prosecutors continue to use the grand jury to circumvent the court’s attempt at reform.
He repeated that Judges must hold Gardner’s office accountable.
Public Defender’s Perspective
Hear Matthew Mahaffey on St. Louis on the Air.
“If the state continues to act like this and does not give our clients proper procedural rights,” Mahaffey said, “the associated courts should obey the rules.” He wants more judges to follow the example of St. Louis District Court Judge Jason Sengheiser who hit the headlines this week with dismissing a murder charge and dismissing the case if prosecutors fail to obey the rules.
Gardner declined to be interviewed on Tuesday. She has made the issues public on troubles caused by a deputy prosecutor’s maternity leave.
In response to inquiries from St. Louis on the Air, their office issued a statement stating, “After reviewing our internal policies and procedures regarding family vacations, we have determined that corrective action is needed to avoid more iterations in the Future prevention of the incident in question. However, the presumption that other cases like the one in question have occurred has not been confirmed.
“Rest assured that, as the St. Louis District Attorney, I am accountable to the public for the actions of the office and, as always, I have an obligation to adhere to the highest possible standards and accountability practices at all levels of that office. especially the public safety of the residents of the city of St. Louis. As a result, the person is on remand in this case. ”The office later went back and confirmed that the suspect in the case cited by Gardner was indeed not in custody.
Mahaffey credits Gardner with her attempts to shake up the criminal justice system.
“I think Kim is an advocate for criminal justice reform and I respect that,” he said. “But I think, in addition to these, the focus of management must also be increased. She has shown a great willingness to think about positive reforms. I just hope that your office can build trust with some local authorities, including my own … that would allow for better implementation of these reform ideas. “
Without changes in management, their goals of real reform will be “tough,” Mahaffey said.
He suggested that it might come down to local judges.
“If the court holds them accountable under the rules,” he added, “I believe that some of these reforms will take place because they will force their hands on the management and organizational side.”
“St. Louis on the Air “brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and shape in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The sound engineer is Aaron Doerr.