United States v. Brown

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 05-13-2015
  • Case #: 13-10354
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Gould
  • Full Text Opinion

A defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to adequate representation and a right to choose one’s own counsel, when the defendant wants to excuse his current counsel for a public defender.

Richard Carl Brown was charged with offenses related to child pornography. Brown’s counsel filed a motion to withdraw and substitute with a public defender due to “strained” communications and conflicts of interest. The district court ordered the hearing to continue as ex parte and denied the motion, citing financial reasons and the counsel's qualifications. Brown was subsequently convicted on all charges, and filed a judgment of acquittal or for a new trial, based on his counsel’s motion to withdraw. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit noted that it was clear from the email exchanges between Brown and his attorney that the attorney would be fired. Furthermore, the panel found that the district court focused on the attorney’s reasons for the motion, rather than Brown’s constitutional right to fire his counsel. The panel explained that under the Sixth Amendment, there is “a right to adequate representation and a right to choose one’s own counsel.” Therefore, Brown could have fired his attorney for any reason, only subject to the orderly administration of justice qualification. The panel determined that the district court did not discuss the constitutional right to retained counsel of choice, nor the extent-of-conflict analysis. Furthermore, since Brown obtained his own counsel, his right was independent and distinct from the right to effective counsel. Lastly, Brown had a statutory right to have counsel appointed to replace the attorney. The panel found that the district court did not attempt to solve its concern with the timing of the request, and therefore could not have denied the request for new counsel because of its calendar demands. Therefore, the panel concluded that the district court abused its discretion in denying Brown's motion to discharge retained counsel. VACATED and REMANDED.

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