Supreme Court hears claim that paying defendant doesnt have right to pick his own attorney

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday April l7 on the right of a paying  defendant to be represented by the lawyer of his choice.
In the case before the Court,( United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez), a Missouri federal trial judge barred the first-choice California lawyer of drug-conspiracy defendant Cuauhtomec Gonzalez-Lopez, leaving him with a St. Louis lawyer who had never argued a criminal case, and lost. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out Gonzalez-Lopez’s conviction, ruling that the judge’s improper exclusion of the first lawyer amounted to a structural defect that warranted automatic reversal of the conviction.
Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben argued that reversal should not be so automatic, urging that some kind of inquiry be required to determine if the rejection of a first-choice lawyer prejudices the outcome of a case, especially when the replacement lawyer is competent.
A majority of the court appeared to agree that even if a defendant picks a lawyer who is inexperienced or a lawyer determined to make an outlandish argument, that is the defendant’s constitutionally protected right.Scalia said that a client ought to have the right to pick a lawyer who will try crazy strategies that might just work. He cited the “twinkie? defense used by the assassin of the San Francisco Mayor, Harvey Milk.
Souter saw an even bigger issue at stake in the case: the “autonomy interest” of the client. Tied up in the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, Souter suggested, was the ability of the defendant to direct his or her defense.
Justice John Paul Stevens also said the “autonomy interest is powerful,” describing the defendant’s experience of going on trial as “very traumatic.”
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. appeared to dismiss that argument, however, suggesting that whatever right exists to counsel of choice, it is not a defendant’s right to the “expression of autonomy.” Roberts also warned that if a right to counsel of choice is given too much weight, there will be nothing to stop it from being applied in cases of appointed counsel for indigents, as well.
Jeffrey Fisher, the lawyer for defendant Gonzalez-Lopez, appeared to score points when he said that automatic reversal is the proper remedy when “the government affirmatively interferes” with a defendant’s choice of counsel. It happens rarely, Fisher said, but when it has, all the appeals courts that have ruled on the issue have adopted an automatic-reversal rule.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. offered the hypothetical of a defendant who wants a relative, a real estate lawyer, to defend him, but when that lawyer is barred by the judge, the replacement lawyer is someone with a national reputation in criminal work who still loses nonetheless. Would that defendant be able to win reversal?
 

Comments are closed.