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In Missouri, poor defendants wait months in jail for lawyers: ACLU

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Missouri’s system for providing lawyers to represent poor people accused of crimes is so under-funded that defendants wait months for an attorney and plead guilty in cases they could easily have won, a lawsuit filed Thursday said.

The suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations is the latest development in the state’s long-running feud over how much to spend on legal representation for indigent defendants that has pitted the public defender’s office against multiple governors.

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“I’ve done everything short of setting myself on fire to draw attention to the situation that the state has put us in,” Michael Barrett, director at the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office and himself a defendant in the suit, said by email.

Last year, Barrett tried to emphasize the severity of the problem by appointing the state’s then-governor, attorney Jay Nixon, as a defense lawyer for a poor defendant.

In testimony before the state legislature in February, Barrett said that the public defender’s office would need an additional 333 lawyers to provide even basic representation. That would nearly double the 349 currently on the staff, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch newspaper.

In the lawsuit filed in state court in the state capital, Jefferson City, the ACLU said state’s indigent defense budget is grossly inadequate, with an average of just $356 spent per case. That ranks Missouri 49th out of 50 states in per capita indigent defense funding.

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People accused of crimes can wait months, often in jail, for representation, the complaint said. In 97 percent of cases public defenders are forced to devote fewer than the minimum hours recommended by the American Bar Association, the civil rights legal organization said.

The suit does not seek monetary damages, but is asking the court to order changes in the state’s public defender system.

Shondell Church, one of five plaintiffs in the case, pleaded guilty in a plea deal – even though a public defender told him he could win his case – because he would have been forced to spend six months in jail simply waiting for an available lawyer, the suit said.

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“When the state’s public defense is short-changed, the entire criminal justice system falters,” ACLU attorney Jason Williamson said in a statement.

The organization is seeking class action status for the suit.

A spokesman for Governor Eric Greitens, also named in the suit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Grebler)

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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CNN

At least 30 people have been arrested on suspicion of mass shooting plots since El Paso and Dayton: report

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On Thursday, CNN's Rosa Flores reported that more than 30 people have been arrested on suspicion of planning mass shootings since the massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The suspects are all over the country, and range from high school students to white nationalists.

"A 37-year-old California man arrested today after allegedly planning to shoot employees and guests at a Marriott hotel where he worked," said Flores. "A 15-year-old arrested in Florida accused of threatening to commit mass murder at his high school ... And a self-described white nationalist pleading not guilty to charges of online harassment and aggravated menacing after allegedly threatening to carry out a shooting at a Youngstown, Ohio Jewish community center."

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CNN

‘Our president is deeply mentally ill’: Biographer says ‘blowhard’ Trump truly believes his narcissistic babbling

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On Wednesday's edition of CNN's "OutFront," Trump biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist David Cay Johnston told anchor Kate Bolduan that President Donald Trump's self-congratulatory rant was indicative of mental illness.

"David, you've studied Trump for years. You've also called him a 'world-class narcissist,'" said Bolduan. "How does that play into everything that we're hearing from the president today, from 'I'm the chosen one' to 'I'm the second coming of God' to declaring the Danish leader can't talk like that against the president of the United States?"

"Kate, Donald really does believe that he is superior to the rest of us," said Johnston. "He has himself talked about how the Trumps believe they are genetically superior to the rest of us. Notice how he calls everybody who in any way doesn't bow down to him an idiot, a fool, they don't know what they're doing."

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Facebook

‘We’re looking at that very seriously’: Trump considering getting rid of ‘birthright citizenship’ under 14th Amendment

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President Donald Trump said that he's looking at getting rid of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In a discussion with reporters en route to Air Force One, Trump explained his plans.

"We're looking at that very seriously, birthright citizenship," Trump said, according to Foxs' Chad Pergram.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," the 14th Amendment reads.

To change an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, both houses of Congress must pass the law with two-thirds of a vote. Then, three-fourths of the state legislatures must approve it.

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