Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner, Wheat, desired to hire Iredale, the attorney who was already representing two other defendants to various crimes all arising out of the same course of events. The District Court denied petitioner’s request, citing conflict of interest, and petitioner appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “While the right to select and be represented by one’s preferred attorney is comprehended by the Sixth Amendment, the essential aim of the Amendment is to guarantee an effective advocate for each criminal defendant rather than to ensure that a defendant will inexorably be represented by the lawyer whom he prefers.”
In determining whether or not to disqualify defense counsel, the court must balance two Sixth Amendment rights: (1) the right to be represented by counsel of choice and (2) the right to a defense conducted by an attorney who is free of conflicts of interest.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Whether the Sixth Amendment right to counsel allows a defendant to waive the right to conflict-free counsel, in order to obtain the counsel of his choosing.
Held. Affirmed. Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the court, noting that the Sixth Amendment right to choose one’s own counsel is often circumscribed by the right to effective assistance of counsel. Particularly, as in this case, it is at the discretion of the District Court to determine whether certain counsel could offer effective representation and, should the court decide it cannot, the court has the right to abrogate the defendant’s wishes.
Dissent. Justices Marshall and Stevens both wrote dissenting opinions, maintaining that the while the District Court may be given latitude to abrogate a defendant’s choice in counsel in the case of true, undeniable conflict; the facts of this case were given greater significance and, no true conflict existed at the time of trial.
Discussion. Its important to remember that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel may always be circumvented by the court’s duty to determine whether defendants are being provided with effective assistance.