Pandemic pushes Oregon’s public defender system to the brink

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Oregon’s public defender system has shown cracks for years, but a post-pandemic glut of delayed cases is exposing shocking constitutional landmines.

Those problems are impacting defendants and crime victims alike in a state with a national reputation for progressive social justice.

An acute public defender shortage means hundreds of low-income criminal defendants don’t have legal representation – sometimes in serious felony cases – and judges have dismissed several dozen cases.

Hearings in others are delayed, leaving defendants and victims in limbo. Lawmakers are ordering reforms and budgeting millions for fixes after a recent study found Oregon has 31% of the necessary public defenders.