On June 30, 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court decided Laughlin v. Perry and Flotman, No. SC98012. The court held that the defendants, two public defenders, were immune from suit because public defenders are state employees performing discretionary acts. In Laughlin’s case, the two public defenders missed a jurisdictional problem with his prosecution in state court for burglarizing a post office. They did not object that the Missouri courts lacked jurisdiction over the federal post office. Eventually Laughlin discovered the jurisdictional problem, filed a habeas corpus petition and was released from custody.
This is a policy question and the Missouri court has resolved it in favor of the public defenders. I do not question the statutory interpretation, but the ruling creates a moral hazard and a further risk for those who cannot afford an attorney in a criminal proceeding.