Making Gideon Real

A new study finds that public defenders do a better job for their clients---as measured by average sentence length and other outcomes---than do court-assigned private lawyers. The study attributes much of the difference to the greater experience and better credentials of public defenders. It also notes that public defenders give a better bang for the buck. They obtain better outcomes for their clients by spending less time, and thus costing less per client.

Win-win, right? So should we expect those jurisdictions that use assigned counsel rather than public defenders to switch to the latter? Don't count on it. Better outcomes for clients means criminals spending less time behind bars. Any politician who works to switch from court-assigned private counsel to public defenders will find a challenger eager to label him or her soft on crime. Reformers' best hope would be to hook their proposed changes on the expected cost savings, but even then there will likely be holdouts.