My friend Tim Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute brings to my attention what strikes me as an excellent idea: Allowing indigent defendants to choose their own counsel, using what amount to "lawyer vouchers." This would track the idea of allowing poor parents to escape failing public schools through education vouchers.
The story is here.
My experience is that public defenders are, by-and-large, quite good, and at least as energetic, competent and committed as privately-retained counsel. But we often hear that defendants distrust their public defenders, and view them as just another appendage of The Big, Bad System, and thus never fully trust them no matter how good a job they do.
Better to let them select their own lawyers. I don't expect them to understand that it's the evidence, not the lawyer, that drives the result, but there's a better chance that this will eventually get understood when, after a few years of free choice, the conviction rate stays exactly what it is now.