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Innocence isn’t enough to free wrongly imprisoned

Innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental right in America’s criminal justice system.

If you are ever wrongly accused, you might think your best defense is your innocence.

Our 41 Action News year-long investigation uncovered a disturbing trend – innocence is not always enough, especially in Missouri.

“Most public defender clients never meet their first appellate lawyer,” said University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Professor Sean O’Brien.

O’Brien said Missouri’s public defender system keeps getting worse because of so much turnover.

“It’s worse in Missouri,” O’Brien said. “The system has been so underfunded for so long that there’s nobody left in the system who knows how to practice law.”

O’Brien used to serve as Kansas City’s Chief Public Defender. He resigned in 1989 when Missouri started cutting back on public defender help.

“That’s when I decided it’s impossible to do this job in an ethical manner,” said O’Brien.

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