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Washington Appellate Court Rules Judge Correctly Denied Criminal Defendant’s Request to Substitute Counsel in Assault Case

On Behalf of | Nov 29, 2015 | Assault

In an unpublished opinion, a Washington man was charged with second- and fourth-degree assault. Before trial, the State of Washington was also permitted to add felony harassment of a Good Samaritan and second-degree attempted robbery charges in the case. In Washington, a longer sentence may be imposed against a person who is convicted of a crime against an individual who was attempting to act as a Good Samaritan at the time. Next, the man entered a not guilty plea in the case.

Before a jury was selected, the trial court dismissed the attempted robbery charge without prejudice. After jurors were sworn in, and each party delivered opening statements, the defendant sought to discharge the attorney who was appointed for him by the court in favor of a private lawyer. Despite his request, the defendant did not name his proposed advocate.

The State objected to the man’s request and argued a legal substitution would delay trial because three of the witnesses in the case required the services of an interpreter. Ultimately, the trial court refused to allow the defendant to discharge his counsel, and the case proceeded to trial. During a recess in the case, the defendant again sought to discharge his attorney and stated his new lawyer was on her way to the courthouse. The judge stated he would entertain the man’s motion if the lawyer arrived as expected.

Although the new attorney arrived, the judge refused to consider a substitution until after another witness provided his testimony. While the witness was on the stand, the new lawyer left the courtroom. Later, the parties called the proposed attorney, and she admitted that the defendant’s current counsel was more familiar with the case. Despite this, the defendant stated he would still like to make the substitution. After that, the trial judge denied the defendant’s request to substitute a new attorney for his court-appointed lawyer.

Following trial, the jury found the defendant guilty on all three criminal counts. As a result, the man was sentenced to serve concurrent sentences of 14 months, 12 months, and 364 days. The convicted man then filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One. On appeal, the man argued the trial court violated his constitutional right to representation by counsel of his choice when it denied his request for a substitution.

After examining the Sixth Amendment to the Washington Constitution, the appellate court stated a defendant has a “right to the effective assistance of counsel” as well as a right to select the advocate of his or her choice. Despite this, the court said the counsel of choice element included in the Constitution only guarantees an accused person the right to be represented by a qualified lawyer the defendant can afford or a lawyer who is willing to represent the accused without payment. According to the court, this constitutional guarantee is not absolute. Instead, the appeals court said the clause was created to ensure that an accused person has an effective advocate on his or her side throughout a criminal proceeding.

Next, the appellate court turned to the facts of the case at hand. Since the defendant’s proposed new counsel was unable to provide him with effective assistance at the late stage of trial during which she was nominated, the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One affirmed the trial judge’s order denying the convicted man’s request to substitute a new attorney for his court-appointed lawyer.

If you were charged with assault or another crime in Washington, you should contact a knowledgeable Seattle criminal defense attorney. To discuss your rights with a dedicated criminal lawyer soon, call the Law Offices of Smith & White at 253-363-8662. You may also contact the skilled advocates at the Law Offices of Smith & White via our website.