The Strength of Our ConvictionsEugene observes that in some jurisdictions, public defenders are elected. He speculates on what sort of campaigns there would be for such elections ("soft on crime" or "minimum constitutionally adequate defense"?). The seeming problem with electing public defenders is the apparent conflict of interest, as the general public is typically on the side of the prosecution, not the defense. So, here's my modest proposal: Why not have public defenders elected by the prison population, or perhaps by all persons who have been convicted of felonies? They would seem to be the appropriate constituency.
I'm only half serious, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Matching the constituency to the interests represented by the office seems quite natural to me, and it would at least partially overcome the conflict of interest problem (if that problem is indeed serious, which it may not be). In many states, felons are actually denied the right to vote, so there would be a nice symmetry to having at least one election in which they are the *only* people who can vote. On the other hand, all of us have the *potential* to be on the wrong side of the law -- or more importantly, to be *accused* of being on the wrong side of the law -- so we all have some interest in having good public defenders. But the plain fact is that most Americans don't seem to consider that possibility until they find themselves there, whereas the already convicted have faced the reality.
I'd better stop before I convince myself.