During Minnesota CLE’s Criminal Justice Institute in St. Paul today, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea warned that “our already overburdened justice system” will “begin to break down” if it is stretched any further by funding reductions.
Yet, with the state facing a $5.8 billion deficit, the courts again stand to be targeted for cuts, she told the hundreds of criminal law practitioners assembled at the RiverCentre.
Gildea called on the criminal law bar to join in grassroots effort to educate the public on the situation. “We must take our case to the people,” she said.
In a panel discussion on the funding crisis following Gildea’s remarks, State public Defender John Stuart outlined the dire situation faced by resource-starved public defenders. More funding cuts would likely mean defenders would no longer be able to handle cases involving out-of-custody defendants or to cover first appearances.
Stuart said the criminal justice system needs to “do something big” to deal with the crisis situation in public defense. He proposed several resource-saving measures, including decriminalizing low-level property offenses that do not involve public safety.
Stuart also made the unusual move of proposing raising the state’s tax on alcohol and dedicating the resulting revenue to funding public defense. He pointed out that alcohol use is involved in many of the cases that defenders are called upon to handle.