While a report released this week recommends further research is needed to “investigate ideal caseloads for prosecutors,” one of the county prosecutors who presented findings on the operations of Missouri prosecutors said the numbers available show prosecutors have been carrying higher caseloads than public defenders.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and Missouri Office of Prosecution Services released the results Monday of two surveys of Missouri prosecutors who opted to participate.
The National Prosecutors’ Consortium’s federally-funded collaboration with Justice & Security Strategies Inc. and the Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence designed a survey to be administered to counties across the United States, on a state by state basis, to get “thorough, baseline information on the operation of county prosecutors’ offices across the country,” and to identify offices that have adopted innovative programs, said Amy Fite, Christian County prosecuting attorney.
There are 114 county prosecutors in Missouri, plus one more circuit attorney who serves the city of St. Louis, for a total of 115 jurisdictions in the state that prosecute on behalf of the state. Of the 115 offices, 47 participated in the surveys that examined data from 2018, Fite said.
The participating offices remained anonymous under an agreement with Justice & Security Strategies, but Fite said the results still captured “a true cross section” of the state — large metropolitan areas and small jurisdictions alike.
Counties with larger populations reported having more full-time employees in their prosecutors’ offices, but even jurisdictions with a population of 100,000 or more people still had an average of 250 cases per year being reviewed by each of their full-time attorneys.
Smaller jurisdictions with populations of less than 20,000 people reported having one full-time attorney and four full-time non-attorneys per 1,000 cases reviewed.
Fite said “those numbers alone are significantly higher than any caseload that a public defender is currently carrying, based on what they’re trying to do with regards to wait lists and having open cases.”
Public defenders in recent years have argued they have more cases than they can handle — which prevents them from providing an adequate legal defense for the clients they’ve been assigned — and the public defender system needs more funding to hire more lawyers.
According to the prosecutors’ operations survey report, the 47 offices that participated reported, on average, reviewing 1,219 felony cases in 2018, resulting in 892 cases charged and 413 cases with at least one conviction.
The offices reported, on average, reviewing 1,845 misdemeanor cases, resulting in 1,439 cases charged and 751 cases with at least one conviction.
The survey of innovative program offerings also found “85 percent of responding prosecutors engage in problem solving courts or other programs that offer alternatives to incarceration” — such as drug or alcohol treatment, community services, anger management, domestic violence diversion programs, training or education programs, and mental health services.
Darrell Moore, executive director of the state of Missouri’s Office of Prosecution Services, said the survey reports are one-time snapshots; the federal funding that supported them has expired.
“We won’t be able to replicate this. We did not have the funding,” Moore said.
He added the National District Attorneys’ Association is starting to identify types of diversion programs offered by prosecutors’ offices in states.
More offices’ participation would have also been good, but he understands prosecutors, especially in rural counties, might not have had the time to do so.
Moore added there is a possibility going forward, with proper training, that data could be extracted from the state’s unified case management system.