Defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel of His Choice Violated When Judge Denied Continuance to Hire Private Attorney

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

In a recent New Jersey decision, State v. Kates (A-3907-10T1), the Appellate Division held that a defendant was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice when the trial court improperly denied him a continuance to hire a private attorney.  In Kates, because defendant’s public defender was being deployed overseas, an adjournment of a trial date was requested on defendant’s behalf so that the defendant could retain private counsel prior to trial.  The trial judge denied this request, and defendant’s case was tried by a “second chair” public defender.

The Appellate Division stated that a defendant who does not require appointed counsel has the right to choose who will represent him.  Therefore, the trial judge should have elicited facts and applied the relevant factors when balancing defendant’s desire to retain counsel of his choice against the court’s need to manage its calendar.   These factors include the length of the requested delay, the availability of competent counsel, and whether denying the continuance will result in identifiable prejudice to defendant’s case.  Because the trial judge failed to engage in this analysis, the defendant was entitled to a new trial.

It is important for clients to be aware of this case and of their Sixth Amendment right to a New Jersey criminal defense attorney of their choosing.  An individual who wishes to be represented by a particular New Jersey criminal lawyer should make sure to invoke his or her rights in this regard, and, if seeking to change attorneys, should make sure that the trial judge engages in a fact-sensitive inquiry about their right to an adjournment/continuance in order to do so. To discuss your constitutional right to counsel further, call us to set up an appointment in our Monmouth, Middlesex, Union, or Essex County offices.

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