Man caught in public defender crisis goes free

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Jared Blacksher is a free man.

The Supreme Court has allowed the Sparta man previously caught in the middle of the statewide public defender debate to move on with his case -- almost a full month after his original sentence would have been over.

Jared Blacksher was allowed to plead guilty to the charges of burglary and forgery. He’s been in jail on the charges since July.

Blacksher and prosecutors had hashed out a plea deal where he would spend 120 days in a drug treatment program with the Missouri Department of Corrections. If he had been allowed to plead guilty on the day planned, he would’ve been out of prison on Jan. 11.

But the Supreme Court stepped in and put his case on hold while the debate over the Missouri Public Defender system continued.

Blacksher was appointed a public defender by Christian County Judge John Waters during a period of time the office was closed to new cases. Public defender offices across the state -- beginning in Springfield -- began closing the offices when caseloads reached a certain level.

When the office asked to deny the appointment, Waters overruled and ordered the public defender represent Blacksher anyway. The public defender commission opted to fight Waters’ ruling in the Supreme Court.

Blacksher has been sitting in jail ever since, without a lawyer or a court date. Blacksher faced the possibility of waiting out the time while the debate -- which essentially had nothing to do with him -- continued in Jefferson City.

“We all agreed it wasn’t fair,” said Cat Kelly, the director of the Missouri Public Defender Commission.

Christian County Prosecutor Amy Fite filed a motion with the Supreme Court earlier in the month asking that Blacksher be allowed to plead guilty as he had intended. What that now means for the Supreme Court case is unclear.

“We are hoping that it means nothing,” Kelly said.

In a previous court case involving similar questions with the public defender system, one of the defendants was allowed to complete his probation, essentially making him no longer a defendant, Kelly said.

In that case, the Supreme Court continued with their debate anyway, since the issues being considered were not exclusive to one defendant.

Kelly said they hope the court takes a similar stance in this case. If not, she said, they’d likely just take up another case.

Jail staff confirmed that Blacksher was released on his own recognizance Thursday. He’ll likely have to return for a formal sentencing date. Online court documents did not yet list a sentencing hearing.

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