Defendants frequently decide to change attorneys while their case is pending before the court. Substitutions of counsel happen very frequently in criminal cases. In fact, it is not uncommon for a criminal defendant to change attorneys repeatedly during the course of their case for any number of reasons. Sometimes, a substitution can occur because the client does not feel the current attorney is paying sufficient attention to their matter. The client may also feel the attorney is not on track for obtaining the desired result. Other times, there is simply a clash of personalities.
Both the federal and state Constitutions guarantee an accused the right to effective assistance of counsel. A basic element of this guarantee is the defendant’s right to the attorney of their choice. However, a defendant’s right to change attorneys during the case is not absolute; rather, it is balanced against the Court’s calendar and scheduling issues. Thus, timing and scheduling can affect a client’s decision to change attorneys. This is particularly true when the defendant decides to change attorneys after a case has been listed for trial, and especially on the eve of trial.
Because changing attorneys almost always result in a delay of proceedings, our State’s Supreme Court has held repeatedly that a trial court must consider the following factors when deciding to allow a substitution of counsel:
a. The length of the requested delay.
b. Whether other adjournments have been requested and granted;
c. The balanced convenience or inconvenience to the litigants, witnesses, counsel and the Court;
d. Whether the requested delay is for legitimate purposes, or whether it is dilatory, purposeful, or contrived;
e. Whether the defendant contributed to the circumstances which give rise to the request for a continuance;
f. Whether the defendant has other competent counsel prepared to try the case;
g. Whether denying the continuance will result in identifiable prejudice to the defendant’s case and, if so, whether this prejudice is of a material or substantial nature;
h. The complexity of the case; and
i. Other relevant factors that may be unique to the matter at bar. Continue reading