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Name: People v. Noriega
Case #: S160953
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/05/2010
Summary

Under both the U.S. and California constitutions, an indigent defendant has no right to counsel of choice and the trial court’s disqualification of appointed counsel is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Appellant was charged with murder with the public defender appointed to represent him. Prior to trial, the prosecutor advised the court that he intended to call a witness who had previously been represented by the Public Defender’s office and that there might be a conflict of interest. Although the Public Defender disagreed that there would be a conflict and objected to being relieved as counsel, the court nevertheless relieved him and appointed new counsel. The appellate court held that appellant’s right to counsel under the state constitution was violated with this action. On review, the Supreme Court held that an indigent defendant has no right to counsel of choice under either the U.S. (United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez (2006) 548 U.S. 140) or California constitution (People v. Jones (2004) 33 Cal.4th 23). Pursuant to the Code Civil Procedure section 128 (court’s authority to conduct proceedings), the court may remove appointed counsel if it perceives a potential conflict; and the action is reviewable for abuse of discretion. Here, although the Attorney General conceded that the trial court abused its discretion in replacing counsel, because appellant failed to show a reasonable probability that the replacement of counsel altered the outcome of the trial (People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818), appellant was not entitled to reversal.