Substitution of Counsel – Denial of Motion Requesting

Unless otherwise indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

State of Tennessee v. Malone, No.  W2020-00364-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 24, 2022).

Trial  courts have  wide  discretion  regarding  the  appointment  and  relief  of  counsel for indigent defendants, and a trial court’s decision in such a matter  “will not be set aside on appeal unless it is shown that there was a plain abuse of that discretion.”   State v. Rubio, 746  S.W.2d  732,  737  (Tenn.  Crim.  App.  1987).    “Grounds  upon  which  a  trial  court  may order  substitution  of  counsel  include  when  counsel’s  representation  is  ineffective,  when the  defendant  and  counsel  have  become  embroiled  in  an  irreconcilable  conflict,  or  when there  has  been  a  complete  breakdown  in  communication  between  counsel  and  the defendant.”   Mobley, 397 S.W.3d at 93 (citing  State v. Gilmore, 823 S.W.2d 566, 568-69 (Tenn.  Crim.  App.  1991)).8   We  apply  a  harmless  error9 standard  to  cases  when the  trial court failed to properly inquire into a defendant’s request for substitute counsel.   See, e.g., Ray,  880  S.W.2d  at  704  (concluding  that  the  error  was  harmless  when  the  defendant received  the  effective  assistance  of  appointed  counsel);  Hall,  2000  WL  1635492,  at  *9 (concluding  that  the  defendant  was  not  prejudiced  by  the  court’s  denial  of  his  motion  to substitute counsel solely because jeopardy attached).

FN 8  As  noted by the State, the Defendant relies on a four-part test  derived from federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals cases involving a motion for substitute counsel, which has not been adopted by Tennessee courts; we  decline to apply that test for the first time here.   See Iles, 906 F.2d at 1130.

FN 9 The  Defendant  argues  that  he  is  not  required  to  prove  prejudice  because  the  right  to  substitute  counsel implicates the same structural constitutional  error standard as the Sixth  Amendment right to counsel.  We agree with the State that the two issues are distinct.




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