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.