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United States v. Ely

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that his rights under the Sixth Amendment had been violated when the judge refused to allow Defendant to choose his appointed counsel.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An indigent defendant does not have a right under the Sixth Amendment to choose the particular appointed counsel who will represent him.

    Facts.

    A district judge appointed a lawyer named Brady to represent David Ely (Defendant), an indigent defendant. Defendant requested that a lawyer named Bartley be appointed instead, as Defendant felt that he had a better relationship with Bartley. Neither Defendant nor the state proffered any evidence related to the list of counsel available for appointment. Even though Bartley was available and willing to take Defendant’s case, the judge refused to change the appointment, explaining that lawyers were appointed based on a rotation system in order to maintain organized and ordered counsel appointments and that, because Brady was a competent and experienced attorney, there was no reason to replace Brady with Bartley. Defendant appealed his conviction to the court of appeals, arguing that his rights under the Sixth Amendment had been violated when the judge refused to allow Defendant to choose his appointed counsel.

    Issue.

    Whether an indigent defendant has a right under the Sixth Amendment to choose the particular appointed counsel who will represent him.

    Held.

    No. Defendant’s conviction is affirmed. An indigent defendant does not have a right under the Sixth Amendment to choose the particular appointed counsel who will represent him.

    Discussion.

    Initially, the Sixth Amendment was not interpreted to provide access to counsel for a criminal defendant who could not afford counsel. Even though the Sixth Amendment has since been reinterpreted to require such action from the government, the government may satisfy its constitutional duties through the appointment of any competent, unbiased counsel. The purpose of the right to appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants is to protect the defendants against unjust convictions, not to provide the defendants with a choice in the appointment-selection process. There are also practical reasons for not allowing a defendant to choose his or her appointed attorney. If all indigent defendants were given such a right, the court system would be overburdened and slowed if, for instance, multiple defendants chose the same counsel. A judge would have to hold a separate hearing to determine which defendant had the right to the chosen lawyer. However, if a defendant wanted to prove that a judge’s decision to appoint particular counsel for representation was nonetheless unreasonable, the defendant would have to present relevant evidence to support that contention. Here, Defendant did not contend that Brady was incompetent or biased in any way. While Defendant may have had a preference for Bartley, Defendant did not cite any specific instances of displeasure with Brady’s abilities. Defendant also did not present any relevant evidence to prove that the judge’s refusal to appoint Bartley over Brady was unreasonable in some way. Therefore, the district judge satisfied its constitutional obligations by appointing Brady, a competent and experienced attorney.


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