Can I Switch Defense Attorneys in the Middle of My Los Angeles Criminal Case?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Nov 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

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If you are unhappy with your Los Angeles criminal defense attorney and want to replace him or her with a new lawyer while your case is pending, you can do so, but only if you are not trying to delay the trial or it would otherwise be prejudicial to you.

You Have a Constitutional Right to the Attorney of Your Choice

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you as a criminal defendant have an absolute right to counsel. A criminal defendant also has the due process right to appear and defend with retained counsel of his or her choice. People v. Leonard, 78 Cal. App. 4th 776 (2000). As one California court put it:

“the state should keep to a 'necessary minimum its interference with the individual's desire to defend himself in whatever manner he deems best, using any legitimate means within his resources.' A criminal defendant's right to decide how to defend himself should be respected unless it will result in 'significant prejudice' to the defendant or in a 'disruption of the orderly processes of justice unreasonable under the circumstances of the particular case.'”

People v. Lara, 86 CA 4th 139 (2001)

When exercising your right to defend yourself as you see fit means firing your current lawyer and replacing him or her with a new one, you don't need a reason, cause, or excuse to do so. "The right of a nonindigent criminal defendant to discharge his retained attorney, with or without cause, has long been recognized in this state.” Id.

Courts also recognize how important it is to an effective defense that there be a relationship of trust and confidence between a criminal defendant and their lawyer:

'the attorney-client relationship ... involves not just the casual assistance of a member of the bar, but an intimate process of consultation and planning which culminates in a state of trust and confidence between the client and his attorney. This is particularly essential, of course, when the attorney is defending the client's life or liberty.'”Id.

You May Lose Your Right to Switch Attorneys If You Wait Until Trial

If, however, you wait too long to request a substitution of your attorney, you may be stuck:

“The right to discharge retained counsel is not absolute, however, and the court may exercise discretion” and deny a motion for substitution of attorneys “if the defendant is ‘unjustifiably dilatory or ... arbitrarily desires to substitute counsel at the time of trial.'" People v. Blake, 105 Cal. App. 3d 619, 623-624 (1980).

As such, a court may deny a motion for substitution of counsel if firing the present lawyer:

(1) would cause " 'significant prejudice' " to the defendant, e.g., by forcing him to trial without adequate representation, or

(2) is untimely and would "result in ... 'disruption of the orderly processes of justice unreasonable under the circumstances of the particular case.' "

People v. Ortiz, 51 Cal. 3d 975 (1990)

If you are currently facing criminal charges in Los Angeles and are seeking to hire a new attorney, please give one of our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys a call for a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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