PORTLAND, Oregon – Today, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt made a statement calling the public defense crisis, defined by a lack of public defenders to provide counsel to defendants, an urgent threat to public safety. He also declared that moving forward cases dismissed by the court due to a lack of defense counsel will be published every week by his office. Individuals suspected of a crime have the constitutional right to defense counsel. Victims have a right to justice. Absent counsel, criminal prosecutions cannot lawfully move forward and issued cases are routinely dismissed over prosecutor’s objections.
Statement from DA Schmidt:
“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. Every week since, case hearings have been set over in the hopes that a public defender may be available at a future date, dismissed outright, or dismissed after being set over, sometimes even past the statute of limitations for a given offense. The courts are put in the position of releasing defendants without prosecutors having so much as an opportunity to request bail or release conditions. And it’s not getting any better. Just last week, a suspect that allegedly ran a car into a school bus of children, which subsequently had to be evacuated due to a leak caused by the incident, was released within 24 hours of his arrest due to lack of a defense counsel.”
“For nearly every defendant without counsel, there are one or more victims awaiting justice. Months into this crisis, many are still waiting for their day in court while others have seen their cases dismissed altogether. This sends a message to crime victims in our community that justice is unavailable and their harm will go unaddressed. 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. Every day that this crisis persists presents an urgent and continuing threat to public safety.”
“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. Moreover, from this day forward, my office will publish every case dismissed or set over as a result of this crisis weekly until it is resolved. The public must be empowered with this information to understand the scope of this crisis.”
DA Schmidt published an Op-Ed weeks after the crisis began and has been vocal about its impact to crime victims since. He is also a member of the three-branch workgroup which has been tasked with crafting the legislative and budgetary response to this urgent issue. He instructed data analysts in his office to track the number of hearings impacted and cases dismissed since the crisis began to measure its impact on case flow and public safety. This data is included below.
To date, a total of 285 cases including misdemeanors and felonies have been dismissed by the courts due to a lack of defense counsel. View a full list of case numbers here: MCDA Felonies and Misdemeanors Dismissed by the Court 2022. The number of felony hearings impacted by the crisis is nearly 2,500. These cases include property crime, crimes involving a firearm, low-level assaults, and domestic violence cases. See more information about these cases here: Felony Dismissals Breakdown.