Just last week, I had a long conversation with a prestigious criminal-defense lawyer. He is concerned about the representation provided to the indigent in the criminal justice system.

“Concerned” may be putting it lightly. Perhaps “alarmed” may be more accurate.

His focus, I should assure you, is not necessarily on the run-of-the-mill criminal matter. His focus is on the problematic situation of death-penalty litigation.

This spring, I hope we will be able to publish a story on the topic. Extensive examination of many case files may reveal that many lawyers come to the representation less prepared and experienced than is ideal. Thus, those who face the possibility of the ultimate penalty may be ill served—which means, of course, society is ill served.

One thing this lawyer mentioned to me more than once stuck in my head: Reading case files reveals that lawyers too rarely take advantage of the opportunity to employ investigators. And as a result, important—perhaps fatal—avenues remain unexplored.

I must point out that this lawyer has the greatest respect for public defenders and the jobs they do with limited resources. Nonetheless, he felt compelled to examine best practices. That examination comprised the work of all defense lawyer, including private-practice lawyers.

That conversation came to mind last Wednesday when I came across a story titled “ACLU Critical of Public Defender System.” It comes from the Hungry Horse News, out of Columbia Falls, Montana, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

(You may follow the Hungry Horse News on Facebook. Why would you do that? Well, I’ve begun doing it myself, for perhaps the best reason I can imagine: They proudly announce, “It remains one of the few newspapers in America published in a log building.” Unverified, but cool nonetheless.)

In any case, the story indicates that the ACLU shares some of the same concerns that the lawyer communicated to me.

What do you think? Does capital defense lack anything? What improvements should be made? And what effect could changes have on the outcome of such cases?