Mo. lawmakers mull changes to public defenders

Missouri lawmakers are considering changes to the public defender system.

Missouri lawmakers are considering measures affecting the public defender system responsible for representing criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.

The House passed legislation that would require the public defender system to contract out for misdemeanors, lower level felonies and probation or parole violations. Public defenders would handle sexual offenses and the cases of those charged with the two most serious categories of felonies.

The Senate is considering separate legislation. Under it, a public defender would handle probation or parole violation cases if the judge determines representation is required.

The public defender system would represent those charged with misdemeanors when the prosecutor has requested a jail sentence.

The public defender system says the Senate legislation is more reasonable. The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys is praising both measures.