Skip to content
Name: People v. Frias
Case #: B322762
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 01/12/2024
Summary

Trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s request for substitution of retained counsel who was ready to proceed to trial, and this structural error required reversal. Frias was convicted of stalking. Prior to his trial, Frias requested that his counsel be substituted several times. The trial court granted four of these requests, but denied subsequent requests. On appeal, Frias argued that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice by denying his four requests to substitute the Castaneda Law firm as his counsel. Held: Reversed. A trial court has discretion to deny a motion to replace appointed counsel with retained counsel if discharging the attorney will result in significant prejudice to the defendant or disrupt the orderly processes of justice. Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied three of Frias’s requests to substitute the Castaneda Law firm as his counsel because attorneys from the firm did not confirm that they would be ready to proceed with the case within the time set for trial. However, the trial court did abuse its discretion in denying Frias’s last request to substitute the Castaneda Law firm as his counsel. While the trial court was rightly concerned that another attorney substitution would further delay the trial and was made for purposes of delay, Castaneda Law firm had been retained on the case for five months and the attorney represented that he was ready for trial (subject to witness scheduling) and was not seeking a continuance. There was no showing this substitution would cause any further delay or impact witness testimony. The trial court improperly focused on the efficiency of proceeding to trial at the expense of Frias’s constitutional right to be represented at trial by counsel of choice. This error was structural.

Substantial evidence supported defendant’s stalking conviction where he persistently pursued a romantic relationship with the victim after she made clear his conduct, which placed her in fear, was unwanted. Frias also argued substantial evidence did not support his stalking conviction. He specifically challenged the jury’s findings he made a credible threat and acted with the specific intent to place the victim (C.) in reasonable fear for her safety. The Court of Appeal reviewed the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether Frias may be tried again for stalking and concluded substantial evidence supports Frias’s conviction. Frias did not know C. personally and persistently contacted her on Facebook professing his love for her, despite C.’s repeated efforts to block him. The messages showed that Frias was watching C. in her apartment. After months of contacting C. on Facebook, Frias appeared at her apartment in the middle of the night, directing her to open her door so he “could get this over with.” C. told Frias she was contacting the police, making it clear that his conduct was unwanted and scared her. But Frias persisted in contacting C. and returned to her apartment complex a few days later. He sent a text message intended for C. telling her to meet him downstairs to “suck this dick.” Frias’s conduct signaled he was not going to take no for an answer and a reasonable jury could infer that Frias intended to place C. in reasonable fear for her safety.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B322762A.PDF