May 18

Forced Representation Unconstitutional


In January 2011, defendant Gregory Martinez and a co-defendant were arrested for possession of narcotics and intent to distribute. The co-defendant pleaded guilty but Martinez maintained he did not know the drugs were in the car and went to trial. On the day of trial, an attorney from the office of Benedict and Altman appeared to request an adjournment because Partner Joseph Benedict was on trial in another court. The Judge said this was one of the oldest cases on her calander and refused the adjournment notwithstanding the fact that the client was vociferous in his desire to be represented by the partner and not an associate. Martinez was found guilty and appealled.

The Appellate Division said that the trial judge failed to properly weigh the defendant’s request for an adjournment in light of his lawyer’s unavilability. The Appellate Division went on to say that the denial of defendant’s request for an adjournment “reflects an arbitrary exaltation of expedience in case processing at the expense of defendant’s right to counsel”. As such, defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice was violated, the conviction was overturned, and a new trial ordered. Trial courts need to recognize that the right to counsel includes the right to counsel of choice, not just any warm body who appears for an adjournment request.

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