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Can you file a malpractice claim against a public defender?

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2022 | Legal Malpractice

As an American, you have some fundamental and important rights. The Bill of Rights, which are the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, spells out many of these. The Sixth Amendment, for example, gives you the right to have an attorney for most phases of criminal prosecution.

If you cannot afford an attorney to represent you in a serious criminal case, the court should appoint one. Often, residents of Missouri rely on public defenders to advocate for their legal interests before and during trial. If a public defender makes a mistake that harms you, you may wonder whether you can file a legal malpractice claim against him or her.

A recent decision

Recently, the Missouri Supreme Court weighed in on the matter. According to the opinion in Laughlin v. Perry, public defenders in the Show Me State have official immunity. The reason for this immunity comes from public defenders being public employees who do their duties with statutory authority.

Part of being a public defender requires exercising discretion. That is, public defenders must decide which arguments to present and which ones to forego. If a public defender exercises this discretion when performing his or her job duties, he or she is immune from legal malpractice claims.

Your malpractice claim

If a public defender has damaged you in some meaningful way, the Laughlin decision is certainly disheartening. Still, official immunity may not be absolute. If your public defender harms you outside of his or her official duties, for example, you still may have a valid legal malpractice claim.

Ultimately, because malpractice claims against public defenders are likely to depend on a careful analysis of both the facts and the law, it is important to discuss your matter with an experienced legal malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

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